Of sexism and atheism: Richard Dawkins gets in trouble with feminists

A feminist atheist notices sexism in the skeptic community, and Dawkins scoffs. Does the professor have a point? Does atheism offer a solution to sexism? Photo: YouTube

OHATCHEE, Al. July 16, 2011 — Evolutionary biologist and renowned atheist Richard Dawkins has taken a beating from his fellow compatriots of skepticdom.

The fray began a couple of weeks ago when the media-savvy scientist participated in a comment thread on the blog of PZ Myers, another atheist biologist.

The subject was the treatment of women in the atheist community, an issue that was brought to light after Skepchick.org founder Rebecca Watson discussed sexism on a panel at the World Atheist Convention in Dublin and had a peculiar encounter afterwards.

In a YouTube video, Watson described entering an elevator on the way to her hotel room at around four o’clock in the morning. “I walked to the elevator, and a man got on the elevator with me, and said, ‘Don’t take this the wrong way, but I find you very interesting, and I would like to talk more; would you like to come to my hotel room for coffee?’”

Well, perhaps that’s as polite as such an invitation could be, but it still was not very appropriate. Besides being an audience member who heard Watson’s talk on the panel, a gentleman should know better than to go beyond exchanging business cards with a woman in an elevator.

Watson’s subsequent video message: “Guys, don’t do that.”

“There is an odd attitude in our culture that it’s acceptable for men to proposition women in curious ways,” Myers prefaced as he linked to Watson’s video on his blog Pharyngula. A few hours later, Dawkins – who happened to sit next to Watson on the aforementioned panel – chimed in with a sarcastic comment addressed to “Muslima”, a hypothetical Islamic counterpart to Watson, whom he admonished to quit “whining”.

“For goodness sake grow up, or at least grow a thicker skin,” wrote Dawkins, who thought that the weird polite man in the elevator wasn’t nearly as disturbing as the deranged misogyny Muslim women have endured – and, by implication, that sexism in the rapidly secularizing West is not something Watson should be bothered by.

Perhaps Dawkins was a little too excited to act out the skills of sarcasm and ridicule that he advocated in his talk on communicating atheism. His logic quickly boomeranged (“What right have you to bemoan the teaching of creationism in your country while people are dying of malaria in West Africa?”), and as he tried to defend himself he looked sillier (“She was probably offended to about the same extent as I am offended if a man gets into an elevator with me chewing gum”) and sillier (“Here’s how you escape from an elevator. You press any one of the buttons conveniently provided”).

COMMUNICATING ATHEISM: Rebecca Watson sits next to Richard Dawkins at the World Atheist Convention in Dublin, Ireland. (YouTube)

Watson promptly profiled Dawkins as the worst villain a person can be in class warfare – a “wealthy old heterosexual white man”.

Although Dawkins’ entertaining comment rhetoric was lost to a mostly appalled internet audience, I have to admit that the professor did have a point. But I doubt even he would dare look at the implications of that point.

The point is that because the issue is sexism in the atheist movement, perceptions of sexism are not based on absolute principle, but on relative emotion.

Watson speaks out against the sexual objectification of women, but she apparently sees nothing wrong with the pinup calendars that she and her female atheist friends publish. Myers defended her views on his blog, but only last year he linked to an interesting interview with Nina Hartley, a feminist atheist who sees nothing wrong with women performing as sex workers.

You see, sexism and the exploitation of women are not immoral to godless women as long as such things are on their terms. Is it any surprise, then, that some unprincipled men with their own terms try to take advantage of this – or that some godless men insensitively accuse alert women of “whining”?

Shortly after Dawkins got himself in trouble, feminist atheist Jen McCreight scolded the privileged academic for not realizing that “words matter”, saying (among other things) “You don’t have people constantly explaining that you’re subhuman, or have the intellect of an animal.”

Ladies, Professor Dawkins thinks we are nothing more than animals. He’s an ethologist (animal behavior scientist) who travels the world bragging that he is an African ape. To Dawkins – and the entire skeptic subculture – humans are just a little branch off the primate family tree, caught in Earth’s endless species class war (so to speak). Females are accommodators to males’ megalomaniacal selfish genes, and as long as a girl isn’t deprived of Vitamin D in a burqa, she’s supposed to shut up about it.

That, at least, is the philosophical dead end that seems to come from that worldview – whether subscribers of such consciously emanate it or not.

This year Miss USA contestants were asked about the teaching of evolution in schools. The video of their touchy-feely, not-so-scholarly responses (after all, they’re modeling contract winners, not scholarship winners like Miss America contestants) generated considerable vitriol on YouTube.

One staunch evolutionist left a detailed sadistic comment in which he fantasized flogging the pageant girls in his bed until they accepted Darwinism.

I know that YouTube comment sections are among the worst grammatically-challenged, profanity-laced gang slums of the internet, but that level of misogyny is still shocking – and in that case, it couldn’t be blamed on religion.

I’m glad to see Watson et al calling out misogynistic language in the atheist arena, because I personally have been affected by it as a Christian woman who has spent some time writing about controversial issues online. But I see no hope for a secularist solution.

Misogyny, racism and the like are not atheist problems or religious problems. They are human problems. Secularism and religion in and of themselves are both insufficient inventions intended to remedy all manner of social ills.

Just as Rousseau thought that eliminating private property would eliminate crime, so atheism tries to eliminate the moral law-giving God in hopes of eliminating immorality.

As an independent, un-churched Christ-follower, “religion” is a word that has always tasted like grape-flavored children’s Dimetapp in my mouth. I couldn’t figure out why until today. Religion, as a human activity, treats the symptoms without healing the illness; secularism postulates that the illness doesn’t exist and thus attributes discomfort to the medicine alone.

Religion tries to micromanage standards, secularism tries to eliminate standards, and suddenly Jesus Christ appears and claims to be the standard.


None other than the Man whose crucifixion and resurrection has been a crux of cultural and academic debate for nearly two millennia.

Religious authorities were flustered, and secular authorities were pressed to conclude, “Never has a man spoken the way this man speaks” (John 7:46).

Jesus rattled the Hellenized, misogynistic culture of first century Palestine by granting justice, health and amity to women regardless of religious and political barriers. In an era and locale when and where women’s testimony was not even considered reliable in court, Christ chose women to be the first witnesses of His resurrection.

A Skepchick contributor once doubted Jesus’ support for women because those women who followed Him were known for doing things like washing His feet and serving food. Well, Jesus also washed people’s feet and served food, which practically nixes the equality quandary. Jesus clearly did not believe the occupation and status of women to be beneath the dignity of man or God.

Instead of being mere contrasting biological organisms, men and women in the eyes of Christ are co-vessels of the image of the infinite God – and are equally at His mercy.

Interestingly enough, whether the topic is religious or secular, hatred of women tends to go hand-in-hand with hatred of Christ.

Earlier this year, an article appeared on Wonkette that cruelly poked fun at Sarah Palin’s little son Trig, who has Down syndrome. As I scrolled down the (since removed) comment thread, I noticed a progression from mocking disabled children to mocking women to blaspheming Christ’s name.

As for the bondage of Dawkins’ “Muslima” – Jesus isn’t given much better treatment over there.

If the well-being of women is what you’re concerned about, you will probably be exasperated by the traditions of men.

(“See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.” - Colossians 2:8)

But we have a friend in Jesus Christ.


Amanda Read is an unconventional scholar, a Southerner without an accent, a Christian who hasn’t been a churchgoer in 17 years and a college student who lives with eight younger siblings. A writer and artist, she blogs at www.amandaread.com and is the author of the historical drama screenplay The Crusading Chemist. Amanda is majoring in history and minoring in political science at Troy University.

Follow her on twitter at www.twitter.com/SincerelyAmanda and Facebook at www.facebook.com/AmandaChristineRead.

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

More from Not Your Average Read
blog comments powered by Disqus
Amanda Read

Amanda Read is a columnist for the Communities at The Washington Times. Trained as a historian, skilled as a writer, and aspiring to be a filmmaker, Amanda investigates the ideas behind contemporary culture and politics. A professional writer and researcher, she is also a Christian homeschool graduate, unconventional college graduate, military daughter, and eldest of the nine Read children at Fair Hills Farm. Find more of her work at www.amandaread.com

 Not Your Average Read

Contact Amanda Read


Please enable pop-ups to use this feature, don't worry you can always turn them off later.

Question of the Day
Photo Galleries
Popular Threads
Powered by Disqus