The Watson Flap

There’s a row going on about continuing sexism within the skeptical community. Rebecca Watson, a speaker at an international skeptical conference, was propositioned by a male attendee… in an elevator… at 4 in the morning. She turned him down, and later used the incident in calling for better behavior out of the male skeptical community. There’s a lot of other people weighing in over the particulars of how Watson did this, but one of the more puzzling to me is a contribution signed off as from Richard Dawkins.

Posted by: Richard Dawkins Author Profile Page | July 2, 2011 11:11 AM

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.


There’s the whole issue of authentication, since this was a comment entered at ScienceBlogs, and you can pretty much sign whatever name you want to something. I hope that the above is the work of a prankster impostor.

If I just have a look at the content, though, it is really troubling to me. We’re talking about social standards of conduct, so there’s going to be differences of context. The really quite horrible levels of sexism and violence toward women mentioned above that are the norm in some cultural contexts do not inform what we should strive for in the cultural context that we live in. Calling for better behavior here is not a repudiation or diminishment of greater suffering endured elsewhere, at least not in my estimation. The line taken in the “Dawkins” missive, if followed consistently and assiduously, would mean a stop to any sort of progressive social change in our culture, as worse examples on just about any topic are bound to be found elsewhere in the world. Karl Kraus put it this way: “The devil is an optimist if he thinks he can make people meaner.”

Yes, we should be activists to improve the human condition around the world. But we have to live in our own culture, and why not try to make things better here, too?

Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Data scientist in real estate and econometrics. Blogger. Speaker. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.

2 thoughts on “The Watson Flap

  • 2011/07/06 at 10:10 pm

    According to PZ, it is Dawkins. His follow up posts admit as much.

  • 2011/07/07 at 6:34 am

    It’s surprising and disturbing that the author who laid out a message of hope that humans could move beyond the poor social mores our selfish genes might have handed us would now urge capitulation (or, perhaps, satisficing).

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