In Rebecca Watson's experience a blog comment by Richard Dawkins encourages Atheist men to harass Atheist women, particularly feminists who speak out. I've lost respect for him.

... he left this sarcastic comment on a friend’s blog:

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.


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That's offensive. ALL women are human beings!

This does not sound like the thinking of Richard Dawkins to me, he has far more respect for the struggles of such mutilation and would not compare one's suffering with another's in such a crass way. This requires more investigation. Thanks for sharing; I respectfully question the authenticity of this statement and I shall check it out. 

If the article is true, sarcasm isn't strong enough; if false, it is libel. I need more information. 

"Two torts that involve the communication of false information about a person, a group, or an entity such as a corporation. Libel is any Defamation that can be seen, such as a writing, printing, effigy, movie, or statue. Slander is any defamation that is spoken and heard.

Collectively known as defamation, libel and slander are civil wrongs that harm a reputation; decrease respect, regard, or confidence; or induce disparaging, hostile, or disagreeable opinions or feelings against an individual or entity. The injury to one's good name or reputation is affected through written or spoken words or visual images. The laws governing these torts are identical."

This one comment has been floating around on the web for over a year now.  It would be an understatement to say that it was blown out of proportion.  The comment is certainly sarcastic and the commenter ostensibly drew the analogy not to belittle or dismiss the problems that women face in America but rather to point out that a certain brand of feminism has led some women to be overly pattern-seeking, to see themselves perennially as victims and to see a victimizer at every turn.  There is a slippery slope here.  Perceived abuse in the absence of any evidence whatsoever is wholly subjective.  Apparently, the man in the elevator did not touch her, and we haven't even established yet what exactly he said to her. There are simply insufficient data.  Would the testimony of one person in the absence of any evidence hold up in an impartial court of law?  Of course not.  And does a man perhaps awkwardly propositioning a woman constitute abuse for that matter?  Let us put aside our presuppositions for a moment and consider whether any actual harm has been done.  It is a matter of fact that women in Islamic states suffer demonstrable, objectively-verifiable abuse every day.  Female genital mutilation is a horrifying reality for millions.

A detailed account of the incident known as "elevatorgate" and the subsequent reaction to it, including the context of Richard Dawkins' comment, can be found here. Dawkins received a great deal of flak over this. Whether or not his comment was insensitive is open to debate, but I don't think it's true that he was actually encouraging atheist men to harass or be rude to atheist women. I think the original point he was making was that people were generally over-reacting to what he perceived to be a minor incident. I'm not saying his comments were all that great, but I think it unfair to label him a "misogynist" over this. Some members of the atheist community have expressed concern about the incivility and divisiveness that emerged out of this incident. See this blog post for a very clearly expressed concern about an "us vs. them" mentality that may be developing among advocates of "Atheism+". In particular there has been a tendency on the part of people like PZ Myers for example to take an attitude that anyone who expresses a difference of opinion must be racist, misogynist and generally not a nice person. Take this charming rant for example:

If you agree with that, you’re an atheist+. Or a secular humanist. Whatever. You’re someone who cares about the world outside the comforting glow of your computer screen. It really isn’t a movement about exclusion, but about recognizing the impact of the real nature of the universe on human affairs.

And if you don’t agree with any of that — and this is the only ‘divisive’ part — then you’re an asshole. I suggest you form your own label, “Asshole Atheists” and own it, proudly. I promise not to resent it or cry about joining it.

Note that he says if you don't agree with ANY of that. Is there any room for discussion allowed? I read another blog post somewhere (can't remember where exactly at the moment) in which the writer expressed concern that anyone who so much as tried to respectfully disagree with any of Rebecca Watson's views on the "elevatorgate" affair would be lumped in with the trolls and misogynists who make jokes about raping SkepChicks. I think it's really important that atheists be allowed to have differences of opinion without being subjected to name calling and broad-brush accusations of misogyny or what have you. 

Scott, thank you for the background information and references to sites that helps explain what happened. It seems this "elevatorgate" created quite a stir. I like your analysis of what happened and your clarity in defining your position. I agree Dawkins was not inciting "misogyny" and I respectfully differ with you about Dawkins speaking as a "misogynist". A term often heard these days is "green shoots" and that is the gnat at which I bat. As to PZ Myers, he is being himself and as he often does, calls people "assholes". Though I don't enjoy the term, I commend him for standing with SkepChick on the immaturity and irresponsibility of the young man who should have known better; he should have approached her in a more public place where she could have politely said "No" and turned away from him.

I am not saying the young man had evil intent, but that is what mass murderer Ted Bundy, and Kevin Coe, both attractive, articulate, popular figures in their communities presented to their victims. 

Any woman who gets into an elevator with a stranger early in the morning, when there is probably little use of elevators at that hour, is entitled to feel uncomfortable and Dawkins should acknowledged that fact. Safety experts, including police officers, train women ways to reduce their vulnerability and SkepChick did the right thing. 

I agree with PZ, she should named names publicly. Being sweet is not the way to bring about social change and she has and will take a lot more heat because SkepChick understands that. Have you ever known a change agent who has been timid or acquiescent? 

I value and appreciate your comments and point of view even as we do not agree on all points. 

Thanks so much, Scott, for the Elevator Gate link. It was an education.

I think the most succinct summary was Phil Plait's

Dawkins’ ... 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 ...

Ruth, I agree, and that is why this episode is a teaching moment for Dawkins and even for women. 

I'm not interested in what Dawkins has to say any more, if he insists on behaving so rudely to fellow atheists.

Mary, I understand why you have no interest in Dawkins' opinions any more. Dawkins is known for saying what he thinks, not what will make him popular. I agree with you and Dawkins is just the tip of the iceberg, men get away with trivializing, discounting, putting down, even demonizing women who express legitimate fear. He needs to have his feet put to the fire on this one. I stand with you on that. 

And I was a fan of his too - so disappointing.

Very unprofessional behavior - you would think he would know better than that.

I wonder if Dawkins has been misogynistic in the past, and if so, he needs to be confronted. I have not been aware of any such problems and would be most grateful to anyone who can give me evidence of it. That episode, if true on the part of Dawkins, is a teachable moment. I have seen him be ruthless with believers and know he is capable of cutting remarks. Is he misogynistic? If yes, I will happily take him on. 

By the way, earlier today there was a yellowish streak across the top of my page stating I had been blocked from this site. If that is true, you will not be able to read this message. If it is not true, then has anyone else had such a statement? 




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