If you treat feminism only as a weapon to attack Islam, then you are not a passionate feminist

If you treat feminism only as a weapon to attack Islam, then you are not a passionate feminist November 21, 2014

Earlier this week, Kimberly Winston at Religion News Service reported that Richard Dawkins refuses to backtrack from controversial comments made on twitter and other forums in recent years. Winston reports:

“I don’t take back anything that I’ve said,” Dawkins said from a shady spot in the leafy backyard of one of his Bay Area supporters. “I would not say it again, however, because I am now accustomed to being misunderstood and so I will … ”

He trailed off momentarily, gazing at his hands resting on a patio table.

“I feel muzzled, and a lot of other people do as well,” he continued. “There is a climate of bullying, a climate of intransigent thought police which is highly influential in the sense that it suppresses people like me.”

I want to put aside the inherent absurdity of a millionaire best-selling author who claims he’s being suppressed by intransigent critics, just moments after illustrating his own inability to shift his view or accept his mistakes. We wrote more broadly about Dawkin’s comments yesterday, so instead I’ll  hone in specifically on Dawkin’s comments about feminism. Winston continues:

[Dawkins] is, he said, not a misogynist, as some critics have called him, but “a passionate feminist.” The greatest threats to women, in his view, are Islamism and jihadism — and his concern over that sometimes leads him to speak off-the-cuff.

“I concentrate my attention on that menace and I confess I occasionally get a little impatient with American women who complain of being inappropriately touched by the water cooler or invited for coffee or something which I think is, by comparison, relatively trivial,” he said.

I would hope this would go with out saying, but here goes: You are not passionate about feminism if non-trivial feminism only encompasses your pet issues. You are especially not passionate about feminism if you think women who experience sexual harassment and assault should shut up about it and shit on Islam, instead.

Surprisingly, Ayaan Hirsi Ali expressed a similar sentiment several nights ago. Ashe Schow at The Washington Examiner writes:

“If something wrong were to happen to me, and where I come from that happened all the time — you were groped, you were harassed, you were raped — you had no recourse because you weren’t supposed to be where you were,” Hirsi Ali said. “You were married off as a child and you had to obey the person that you were married to, it was just your luck.”

“Feminists in this country and in the West fought against that and won the battle,” she added.

But now, Hirsi Ali said, feminism has taken that victory and squandered it.

“What we are now doing with the victory, and I agree with you if you condemn that and I condemn whole-heartedly the trivial bullshit it is to go after a man who makes a scientific breakthrough and all that we as women — organized women — do is to fret about his shirt?” Hirsi Ali said, referring to the controversy generated by the shirt featuring cartoons of scantily-clad women worn by the scientist who helped land a robot on a comet. “We must reclaim and retake feminism from our fellow idiotic women.”

Given some of Hirsi Ali’s past remarks, particularly about welfare and eliminating freedom of religion for Muslims, I’m not very shocked to see her strike such an illiberal position, here. To start, while it’s true that conditions for women have, in some cases, improved dramatically, I don’t see how the battle here has been won. There is shockingly little legal recourse for women, even in the United States, particularly on college campuses, when it comes to harassment, sexual assault, and rape. “You had no recourse because you weren’t supposed to be where you were” mirrors almost exactly what some men tell women who were harassed or assaulted at a bar or club—you were dressed like that, drinking like that, dancing like that, in front of all those men; what were you expecting?

That feminism has expanded its scope isn’t squandering a victory. The “trivial bullshit” Hirsi Ali references isn’t “fretting about a shirt.” Instead, it’s addressing the gender disparity in STEM fields and the climate there that makes women feel uncomfortable. A surefire way to make sure that it’s only men who continue to make scientific breakthroughs is to shout down anyone trying to hold those men accountable for keeping women out.

If you are really passionate about feminism, here’s what you don’t do: you don’t treat it as your own personal weapon to be wielded only where you want. If there is a problem that women face and they are telling you about it, then you don’t ignore it because feminism should care about what you care about. If there’s a gender disparity in STEM fields and women are telling you that the sexual objectification is one of the things that push women away, you don’t dismiss that as trivial bullshit just because it happened on a shirt. If there’s a gender disparity in the atheist movement and women are telling you that being asked to someone’s hotel room for coffee at 4 AM in an elevator makes them uncomfortable and feel unwelcome, you don’t dismiss that as trivial because it’s just coffee.

If you are passionate about feminism, then you listen to what women are saying.

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