‘I Know Thee Not, Old Man’

Here is a basic test of male chivalry: would you follow a woman into a lift at four in the morning, and proposition her? That’s what happened to blogger Rebecca Watson, at an atheist conference somewhere recently, and in a video diary she touched on the incident, and said how uncomfortable it made her feel.

At this point, Richard Dawkins made some comments on Watson’s blog, to the effect that she had nothing to complain about, and should get off the subject. You can read Dawkins’s comments here, in all their nasty and dismissive squalor.

Dawkins is often accused of being ‘shrill’ or ‘strident’ (it’s a strong characteristic of religious apologists that they argue against tone rather than content) but what he said goes beyond ‘stridency’: it was simply out of order. His remarks cannot be justified on any level.

This is not the biggest story of the week, but it is worth talking about, I think. David Allen Green and the Nat Fantastic covered it today but I wanted to make some points.

1) A few voices, including mine, have been ranting on for years about how the pro-faith left has abandoned feminism in favour of religion. The dark romance between liberal intellectuals and religious doctrinaires has been well documented. But we can’t attack, say, Islamic oppression of women, and Western intellectuals who support and justify same, if we defend people like Dawkins who, seemingly, don’t have the slightest regard for women’s personal space and boundaries. It is a matter of degree and as P Z Myers has said, a lesser evil is still evil.

2) It’s my view that casual misogyny and predation are far more widespread and socially acceptable among contemporary men, including liberal/creative men, than is believed by most people.

Dawkins should now make a full, and frank apology, to Rebecca Watson, and also offer to donate some money to a charity of her choice. I get the feeling he won’t do either.

I always admired Professor Dawkins, I love his books, but perhaps Green is right that this is the beginning of the end of his reputation. ‘Dawkins is not the present,’ Watson writes. ‘He is the past.’ Many other younger writers could now be thinking of that Shakespeare line: ‘I know thee not, old man’.

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2 Responses to “‘I Know Thee Not, Old Man’”

  1. paul murdoch Says:

    Yeah…that side of Dawkins kinda grates. I don’t think he was making any sort of ‘political’ point here; albeit by resorting to a piece of lame satire. Dawkins is and has been many things but a constant thread running through it all is, when all’s said and done”, he’s a “man-up/ pull yourself together/ play the white man” no nonsense stiff upper lip aspirational middle-class son of the empire.

    “Dawkins was born in Nairobi, Kenya.[7] His father, Clinton John Dawkins (1915–2010),[8] was an agricultural civil servant in the British colonial service, in Nyasaland (now Malawi). Dawkins has a younger sister.[9] His father was called up into the King’s African Rifles during World War II[10][11] returning to England in 1949, when Dawkins was eight. His father had inherited Over Norton Park, which he turned from a country estate into a commercial farm.[8] Both his parents were interested in natural sciences; they answered Dawkins’ questions in scientific terms.”

    He’s got no time for prissy delicate over-sensitive air-heads…there’s a little bit of Auberon Waugh in Richard Dawkins…just none of the humour.

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