Dawkins has just been trashed by a feminist guest contributor to The Friendly Atheist. TFA is usually well on the money, but this recent article had me annoyed. A lot.
It all started with this seemingly innocuous tweet:
Islam needs a feminist revolution. It will be hard. What can we do to help?
— Richard Dawkins (@RichardDawkins) July 23, 2015
This, apparently, cooked up a right Twitter storm. And, as far as I can tell, for no good reason.
Lauren Nelson, the author at TFA, stated thusly:
What on earth could possibly be wrong with such a comment? Let’s count.
For starters, Dawkins is a wealthy white Western male dictating what just under a billion women — and overwhelmingly, women of color — around the world “need” to do, with little to no context for what their lives are like.
He’s relying primarily on mainstream media accounts of what it’s like to be a woman living in Middle Eastern countries where Islam is prevalent. To be sure, those stories can be jarring. Who can hear Malala tell her tale and not be moved? Who can read of an 11-year-old Iranian girl being gang raped without rage? But what Dawkins, and many critics of Islam’s relationship with women, forget is that this is only part of the picture. There are many more lived female experiences within this far-from-homogeneous culture of faith, and not all of them are ugly or oppressed. Much like most practicing Western Christian women are not sold to future husbands by their fathers for a couple of goats, many Muslim women embrace a very different interpretation of Islam than what we see in the headlines or read verbatim in the Qur’an.
But beyond the arrogance of assuming all women experience Muslim life the same way is the ignorance of assuming that Muslim feminism doesn’t already exist. This couldn’t be further from the truth…
…Dawkins is way late to the party. The Muslim feminist revolution is well underway, and even a cursory amount of research (Richard? Meet Google.) would have demonstrated as much.
His prior arrogance is compounded by the fact that he somehow thinks he is bringing something new to the table, the implication being that these poor non-Western women of color could not possibly have figured this out before now and without his help.
In this sense, at least, Dawkins is in good company. Western feminists have historically, erroneously, assumed they are the only ones up to the task. In a post-colonial era, such charges add insult to injury in their condescending premise and clumsy execution.
Dan Fincke, a fellow Patheos writer at his own Camels With Hammers blog, opined on facebook:
Richard Dawkins is 100% right, Islam needs a feminist revolution. I can’t believe there are feminists or critics of religion that could possibly not see that statement as as basic as “water is wet.” It’s scary if they can’t. If he had said “evangelical Christianity needs a feminist revolution” they wouldn’t have batted an eye. And there is CLEARLY more progress of feminist evangelicals than feminist Muslims. But evangelicalism still needs a feminist revolution. So does Islam. So does atheism. The whole fucking planet, every single organization, every single country needs a goddamn feminist revolution. The inklings of progress in especially bad places like explicitly patriarchal religions are not enough. They’re not a REVOLUTION. And no, saying that is not erasing the efforts of the would be revolutionaries already on the ground. It’s supporting them. It’s saying they’re doing the right thing. MAYBE you can blame Dawkins for any connotations that implied they needed an old white western male to plant the idea. But honestly, I thought he was asking, “what can we outsiders do to help with this?” I think the right answer would have been ideas for who he could help, what he could say or not say, and more than anything who he could be signal boosting.
But he didn’t deserve to be trashed… for calling for a feminist revolution in a patriarchal religion. The mind reels.
Personally, I find it hard to accept that in order to cast an opinion, one MUST be of the demographic of the subject of the opinion.
So I cannot make a moral pronouncement on euthanasia for old people because I am not old; or for young people in any way because I am not young; or that I am not entitled to an opinion, no matter how correct it is, on any other subgroup of humanity to which I do not belong?
This is so insanely ridiculous. I am a liberal philosopher who is strongly egalitarian. And this article essentially sucks. The Friendly Atheist is an incredibly awesome site, but this was a poor piece, in my humble opinion. Am I allowed to cast an opinion on Americans? Is that allowed? But hang on, she cast her opinion on a Brit… These abstract demarcations sure are problematic!
In some sense, Nelson is proposing some kind of moral subjectivist realism; that each person of a cultural group is correct in their own pronouncements and they are by definition immune to criticism from anyone but Islamic women, or feminists or whatever Nelson decides is the properties of demarcation.
I am not a priori defending Dawkins. I have no horse in that race. But Islam is not having much of a feminist revolution, in any properly meaningful sense. There are Muslim feminists and feminist movements, for sure, but they are hardly sweeping the global Islamic societies as one would expect of a revolution. I do not see it wrong that he seeks to improve that scenario by asking for ideas, and gets shot down in the process, and the dialogue is sidetracked.
I am feminist. I argue strongly for the feminist agenda. I have been involved in researching and writing feminist pieces with others. I think this is time and energy wasted on Nelson’s part.
[EDIT – David over at SIN’s Avant Garde has already talked about this here]