Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Let’s Do This Equality Thing Properly

Given the recent eruptions in the sceptical/atheist community after Rebecca Watson’s vlog discussing her experience with a male “admirer” who propositioned her in a lift at 4am after she had given a talk about women and sexism in the atheist movement, I thought it only right that I should throw my twopence-worth into the proverbial hat. Richard Dawkins responded, dismissing her concerns by comparing the situation to the atrocities committed against women every day all over the world, to which there was the inevitable backlash from feminists and (most notably from my perspective) PZ Myers and the Pharyngulites (no, they’re not a band – links will be provided at the bottom). While I hesitatingly agree with Dawkins’ comments, insofar as there are probably more important things for the movement to be worrying about, his tone was overly-dismissive and misrepresented Watson’s actual attitude to the whole affair. 

Nobody should have to walk the streets or stay in a hotel and fear being raped, attacked or unwelcomingly approached – that should really go without saying. What I do object to though, is the automatic assumption that all men are prospective rapists until proven otherwise. Agreed, the stakes are certainly higher for women in these situations, but “innocent until proven guilty” exists as a legal norm for a reason. The actions of the man in the hotel were not intelligent; he should really have known better than to proposition a total stranger at 4am after she had said she was going to bed, but neither should he be condemned as a pervert or potential rapist. He clearly misjudged the situation and, given the backlash over the last few days, probably regrets immensely an action which he at the time probably thought was perfectly innocent. Understandably to Watson, it was not considered as such, but let’s not be too hasty to turn this chap into a pariah.

Which brings me to Pharyngula. Needless to say, there was a split between the unfortunate number of raging misogynists who thought that they had the right to proposition women whenever they damn well please and the ardent feminists, who reserved the right to consider every man they meet a potential aggressor. In this case, however, the answer is somewhere in the middle. There are misogynists wherever you go, no matter how socially unacceptable such an attitude is in this day and age, so it is disappointing to see some of the outrageous comments that were being sent Watson’s way. However, I resent the notion that all men somehow have “a lot to learn” about these matters – I am not a child and I know how to act accordingly. Just because one tosser made a mistake and a few internet trolls decided to jump on the bandwagon does not mean that all men are predatory adolescents who can’t control their hormones. Most of us care deeply about women’s rights, want genuine equality, want to break every glass ceiling that we encounter and want to live in a world where people are judged by their character and not by their reproductive organs. Yes we often encounter obstacles, but we are your colleagues, your boyfriends, your husbands and your friends. We are not your enemy; let’s ditch this “us versus them” attitude on both sides and start working together properly. Only then can society truly progress.

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