The Atheist Movement Needs to Disown Richard Dawkins
Increasingly, Dawkins only makes headlines by provoking outrage over his handling of sexism, racism, and pedophilia, instead of his thoughts on biology. It's time for his followers to take away his megaphone and hand it to someone who's on message.
Image via Flickr user Marty Stone
Atheist author, biologist, pioneer of the term "meme," and noted sexist curmudgeon Richard Dawkins let fly a firestorm of tweets about rape this past Friday. Those, along with his statements from the past couple of years about this and other issues, make for pretty strong evidence that Dawkins is no longer the figuredhead the atheist movement needs or deserves.
A woman was alleging that a man raped her when she was too drunk to give consent, and Dawkins’s immediate response was the mainstay of all conservatives: What if she’s lying? Plenty of Dawkins’s Twitter followers agreed with him. It’s her word against his, they cried. Rape accusations are serious business, they cried.
Yes, rape accusations are serious business. Actually, accusing anyone of a crime, especially a violent crime, is serious business. That’s why we have court systems in place that determine, to the best of their abilities, whether a given accusation is most likely true or false. We have this for virtually every crime. So why are Dawkins and his ilk so preoccupied about false accusations of rape in a world full of false accusations?
The “accuser-might-be-lying” theory inevitably pops up around every rape case. But false accusations of rape occur in only about 2 to 3 percent of cases. That’s roughly the same rate as false accusations of other violent crimes, according to the US Justice Department. Studies in the UK have yielded similar results, but the myth of the always-lying rape accuser persists.
Keir Starmer, England’s Director of Public Prosecutions, stated that rape investigations are “undermined by [the] belief that false accusations are rife.” Dawkins obviously fancies himself the king of reason, yet he buys wholesale into this frat-boy mentality. It’s reasonable to assume an accused person is innocent until proven guilty, but Dawkins is cherry-picking rape cases as the only focus of his doubt.
He clearly thinks of himself as someone who flies in the face of the status quo, a maverick who plays by his own God-free rules. The problem is that his perception of the status quo is completely wrong. It’s not edgy to suggest that rape survivors are to blame for their own rape. Victim blaming is the status quo. Courts, media, and the public at large have thrown at rape survivors every insane excuse you can imagine, from “You shouldn’t have been drunk” to “You couldn’t possbly have been raped because you were wearing skinny jeans.”
And Dawkins didn’t stop at questioning the alleged victim’s motives. He went on to compare being raped to driving drunk, with a couple more classy tweets in which he got both sarcastic and defensive of men: “...If you want to drive, don't get drunk. If you want to be in a position to testify & jail a man, don't get drunk,” and “Officer, it’s not my fault I was drunk driving. You see, someone got me drunk.”
In Dawkins’s mind, women seem to set out to “testify and jail men,” the same way that designated drivers consciously decide not to drink at a party. So if a woman gets drunk and passes out, that’s her fault for failing to better plan around her goal: testifying and jailing a man.
This recent incident is far from his first adventure in defending creepy dudes.
Followers of Dawkins’s antics may remember the 2011 scandal wherein Rebecca Watson, founder of female-focused atheist site Skepchick, asked men to refrain from hitting on her while in an elevator because it made her uncomfortable. Her request, tragically, caused Dawkins to lose his mind. He posted a sarcastic letter to “Muslima,” a fictional Muslim woman, telling her to “stop whining” about how hard she has it as a Muslim woman. Dawkins later apologized, albeit snidely.
The “Muslima” incident wasn't his only brush with Islamophobia. Dawkins arguably dislikes Islam even more than he dislikes false accusations of rape. (Let’s just hope he never catches wind of a Muslim person pursuing a rape allegation.) Dawkins tweets about his disdain for Islam—excuse me, the objectively correct “fact” that Islam is wrong—several times a day. On Twitter, he’s taken potshots at Muslims for not having enough Nobel Prizes (take that!), and compared Islam to Nazism.
Cropped image by Surian Soosay via Creative Commons
Outside of Twitter, Dawkins has stated that he “[regards] Islam as one of the great evils of the world.” Once again, this is not the provocative, fresh opinion Dawkins obviously thinks it is. It’s a boring, conservative opinion espoused by millions of people who want an easy answer to the question of why bad things happen in the world. “Islam is bad” is the opinion of a cable-news pundit whose videos your conservative dad constantly forwards you in emails with the subject line "FWD: FWD: fwd: FINALLY SOMEONE IS NOT AFRAID TO SAY IT!!!"
OK, so he’s said a lot of racist things and a lot of sexist things, Allegra. Who hasn’t?! But surely he draws the line somewhere, right? He probably draws it at something we can all agree is bad, like pedophilia. Right?
Would that it were so simple, friends! In perhaps the most confusing of his views, Dawkins defended the “mild pedophilia” he himself experienced as a child at boarding school. I’m almost remiss to criticize him for this one because it’s so sad—“I was molested, and I’m fine!” However, his extension of this sentiment to all victims of “mild pedophilia” (perhaps the craziest word to put “mild” in front of) is profoundly harmful.
Dawkins argued that his molester, who targeted not just Dawkins but other children as well, did not “[do] any of [them] any lasting harm.” He went on to argue that we cannot judge the molesters of the 1950s by today’s standards, “just as we don't look back at the 18th and 19th centuries and condemn people for racism in the same way as we would condemn a modern person for racism.”
Dawkins criticizes religious people for an inability to think critically, but rather than look to the science on the subject, which is supposedly his job, he defaults to conservative logic and victim-blaming, perhaps because Twitter applauds him when he says something controversial. Also, why is he weighing in on such subjects in the first place? For someone whose expertise is in evolutionary biology, he certainly seems to consider himself an authority on the entirely unrelated field of sex crimes.
Dawkins appears to have adopted the sexism and other forms of narrow-mindeness he purports to hate in religion (plus bonus defenses of pedophilia), proving his own mantras wrong with every new opinion he posts. Read Dawkins’s Twitter at any time for tweets about “objective reality” interspersed with paranoid tweets about Islam, and of course his regularly scheduled uninformed opinions on rape culture. Although he is gradually losing sympathizers, the so-called “new atheist” movement still holds him in too heroic a light. In his time, Dawkins did groundbreaking work in the field of biology, but his relevance—especially in social matters—is fading quickly. If the new atheist movement wants to move beyond outdated idols preaching old-fashioned discrimination, they need to disown Dawkins—or, at the very least, subtract themselves from his more than 1 million Twitter followers.
Instead of Richard Dawkins, follow Allegra Ringo on Twitter.
- Richard Dawkins
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- The selfish gene