July 15, 2011

Last Words: Rebecca Watson and Richard Dawkins

Here’s the substance and sequence of events as I see it.

• Rebecca Watson had an elevator encounter that she felt uncomfortable with. She talked about it on her blog. She has every right to do so.

• PZ Myers picked it up on his blog. Thus far, this is like a conversation about dating techniques.

• Dawkins decides to get into this debate. He equates Watson’s experience with the great amount of suffering that women face in various countries including threats to their lives. Dawkins trivializes Watson’s experience as ‘zero-bad.’

• On the face of it, it seems like these are two distinct and unrelated issues and there’s no reason for anyone to compare these two experiences. Or is it?

• One is aware of problems such as date rape and various forms of sexual crimes which take place on campuses. Problems that are unique to the so-called advanced nations. Backward nations meanwhile are faced with the age-old issues: everything from killing female fetuses to killing female infants to injustices to young females to forced marriages to dowry harassment to death punishment for adultery, etc. I have clearly left out other forms of cruelty.

• Could it be that there’s something common in the male mindset which enables males to commit the first set of crimes in the rich countries and the second set of crimes in the poorer countries? It seems there’s after all some thread which links these two sets of crimes.

• So, Rebecca Watson’s encounter can be placed in the broader spectrum of persistent male mindsets. And then we can all conclusively agree that the elevator guy was egregiously in error. There’s after all a continuum from innocent offers of coffee to a situation where an acceptance of such an offer is construed to be an invitation to have sex. And when the female later makes it clear that the two matters are distinct, that often leads to misunderstanding, violence, and possibly rape.

• Dawkins erred in looking at it as an isolated incident and ignoring the historical baggage.

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