06 July 2011

Magic Porridge Pot

A lot has been said on this Dawkins thing. This is good and full of links if you missed it. But I think we're all focusing so much on the frantic, privileged screaming that we miss the extra reasons why you were right to hate Dawkins. Also why this Skepchick woman seems really sound and quite lovely. Firstly, watching her account of the situation (here, 4m30s-ish), you notice her tone and her attitude towards the guy who approached her. She didn't call him a rapist. Or a harasser. Not even a potential rapist or harasser. As she points out herself, her most vicious condemnation of his behaviour is "guys, don't do that". This is a woman who receives rape threats as a matter of course, and that's the most venom she can muster.

This is how to deal with privilege. Privilege is invisible to the privileged. The guy in question probably doesn't worry about being assaulted in lifts very much, so the idea of that kind of threat probably didn't cross his radar. The rule of "don't sexually proposition women in a confined space without exits" had crossed my mind, but not before reading Schroedinger's Rapist, and lifts had never come into it. Now I have*. Thanks Richard. I've learned. Calling out privilege isn't, and shouldn't be, about making someone feel uncomfortable about who they are and what they don't even know they don't know. It's about wondering if that person has ever considered this and saying, well, "guys, don't do that". Calling out privilege isn't an attack. It's a lesson. In this case, it's a lesson on how not to massively intimidate a woman you want to have sex with you.

So Richard Dawkins is basically attacking a woman for giving out really useful pulling advice. You'd have thought that'd satisfy the guy's daily quota of being an arrogant cockgraze, but no.
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.

Note, first of all, that this Muslima (Richard Dawkins is frightfully clever and knows the Arabic for a Muslim lady. Let us not forget this) isn't a specific one or even from a specific country, she's more of a generic hodge-podge of all the things Islam does to women, and there's probably only one or two places in the world where you'd get all of them at once.

More importantly, note how the generic hodge-podge is of things Islam does to women. Women do not, for example, make up around fifty per cent of Islam, nor are they in any way important to its reproductive cycle. Richard Dawkins would like you to conveniently forget this person is a Muslim. So, Muslima, if you're listening: Richard Dawkins hates you. Richard Dawkins thinks you're a delusional, superstitious moron. He finds you revolting in your stupid fucking bin-liner. He thinks you're a "great evil". Obviously it's sad that you get cut and stoned and beaten, but the important thing right now is that a feminist gets put in her place.

I've seen this kind of solidarity before. You know the kind where the real victim is the pampered Western liberals. Richard Dawkins strikes a blow for women of colour, by grabbing one by the leg and beating a white feminist repeatedly on the tits with her.

Afterthought: Dawkins' later dismissal of the come-on as "only words" is just as thick. A major failing of language is to look at speaking and listening as one-way streets. You say what you mean, and if they understand it the wrong way, they fail. But the game is much more involved than that. When we speak, we constantly anticipate the other person's understanding based on conventions and context. We stick -ed on the end, safe in the knowledge that they'll interpret it as a past event, passive or hypothetical. We understand instinctively that saying "tea?" means more in a kitchen than in a swimming pool. We avoid big words around small children. If we fail to understand how our language will be received, we've failed to use it properly on the most basic level.

It's the same with speech acts. Inviting a person for coffee-which-probably-means-sex is an action. A verbal one, a communicative one, and an entirely non-violent one, but an action nonetheless. Lift Bloke made Rebecca Watson aware and conscious of the fact that he wanted to knob her. He didn't - because he couldn't and because no-one can - make her aware that he had no intention of raping her. He failed to read the context, and failed to anticipate how he would change the context by speaking. I'm quite willing to believe he did this innocently, in the same way you wouldn't hold it against me if I accidentally offended some Americans by misusing 'fag'. But he did it all the same and so richly deserves to be taken aside and given some friendly advice.

And for Richard "Shit Off Jesus" Dawkins to completely dismiss the complex linguistics of human pre-fuck ritual, it's, well, a bit dogmatic and unscientific if you ask me.

*What I've concluded is that the best approach is probably to pretend she's not there all the way up, and then as she gets out on her floor and the doors are open, go "oh, by the way...". Pretend like you were too nervous to talk or something. This is in everyone's interest as, if she says 'no' straight away, you'll have to stew in the awkwardness all the way to your floor until you wish you'd just farted in there instead. But also she's less likely to be scared of you and thus want to hump you less.


  1. Why did she even think this entire story was worthy of a blog post? Someone came onto her, omg. Yes, it probably wasn't very nice being in a lift all alone and what not, and I would have been freaked out in that position too. But the entire thing seems so completely blown out of proportion, and I think Dawkins' reply was dripping sarcasm because he too felt the same way.
    I have just read it, and I felt disappointed to be a woman, because whining about things like this is why no one like feminists.

  2. By "blog post", do you mean a one-minute aside on a video mostly about other things?

  3. Anonymous7/7/11 03:09

    I like feminists, and I don't think saying that something makes you uncomfortable is whining. I think anyone who says a woman is 'whining' simply because she tells the truth about her experience as a woman is being misogynistic. This tactic is used to undermine what someone has to say, in the hope that making them seem like an unpleasant person means no-one will actually listen to their words, and ultimately to silence people by bullying them. The reason this has become a big thing is because Dawkins used bullying tactics in response to a fair and reasonable comment, not because of Skepchick's handling of it.

  4. Good point. I've seen feminists be very unpleasant on an interpersonal level. Didn't take any of the logic or credibility out of their arguments or experiences.

    Dawkins, on the other hand, has managed to fail on both counts, being an obnoxious prick and wrong, yet people are still queueing round the block to stick up for him.