Richard Dawkins has grown up with feminism. The Selfish Gene was published in 1976 just six years after Germaine Greer changed the face of feminism with her polemic, The Female Eunuch.
His thesis, essentially of a genetically driven account of human altruism, and her’s of female sexual repression by the traditional suburban nuclear family both invited controversy. Both were trail-blazers.
Were their authors bullied into silence? Not to my memory at least. Politically correct thinking was still a thing of the future. The legal apparatus of thought policing was yet to evolve.
In 2006, when Dawkins made even more controversial assertions in his book The God Delusion, I don’t remember any attempts at repression. To the contrary his views were received by the media elite with pure rapture. The modern sectarian intelligentsia took this turbulent priest of science to its bosom.
Despite assertions such as there is almost certainly no God and that we do not need religion to be good, only our genes, no theologian tried to silence him. Rather, they took him on in debate. He argued back, giving not an inch.
Yet last week this firebrand was forced to recant. Not over his views on God but over his views on rape.
Why? Because, unlike his views on the selfish gene or on God, his categorisation of rape proved to be politically unacceptable – to feminists. It turns out that in face of them he is a mouse, not a man.
A man who has revelled in the criticism of social conservatives and theologians crumbled in face of a tsunami of feminist outrage and hate. His crime was to hold an inappropriate theory about rape which involved distinguishing the least good variants from the least bad.
To illustrate a logical point about relativism to his followers he’d tweeted “Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of date rape, go away and learn how to think.”
He followed up this example with another keen to make his simple point: “Mild pedophilia [sic] is bad. Violent pedophilia is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of mild pedophilia, go away and learn how to think.”
Engaging with his theme he underlined the difference again: “Mild date rape is bad. Violent date rape is worse. Is it really so hard to understand that that doesn’t constitute endorsement of either?”
Furious feminists told Dawkins to “go away and learn compassion”, and commented: “So helpful! Maybe he could make a list ranking types of rape from worst to least worst?” Others accused him of being “a danger to women.”
He continued to push his point for a while: “It’s obvious to you and me. You’d be amazed, probably shocked at how many people simply don’t get it,” he tweeted to one more sympathetic follower.
That he had committed a sin against a basic tenet of feminism clearly had not occurred to him nor that feminists might prove as fundamentalist as America’s Mid-West evangelicals.
The End Violence Against Women Coalition sternly said his words were “not merely ignorant but extremely offensive”. Shami Chakrabarti of the human rights group Liberty counselled there was “no such thing as mild rape”. Jody Woodward, a spokesman for East London Rape Crisis, insisted that: “Rape itself is a violent act regardless of whether any physical force is used. For survivors there is no hierarchy as to what constitutes ‘better’ or ‘worse’ rape. Rape is rape; there is no such thing as mild rape.”
The presence or absence of a knife (she did not mention the use of a knife) clearly makes no difference in Ms Woodward’s book.
I beg to differ and so to did Richard Dawkins for a while. How the case of the Dehli gang rape which included horrific mutilation followed by death could be perceived as the same as a date rape with no physical injury beggars belief, it is so self evident.
However this onslaught of po-faced outrage and aggression that greeted his tweets finally got to him. Professor Dawkins admitted his error in a definite climbdown. “In both my hypothetical examples, I made the mistake of forgetting to put quotation marks around the hypothetical quotations”, he blogged. Of the paedophilia tweet he said: “I should of course have said RELATIVELY mild. Obviously I don’t think pedophilia [sic] is mild in an absolute sense.”
With these words he succumbed to bigotry – the barrage of feminist bullying and fury. He did not tell them where to get lost, despite the accusation that he was ‘a danger to women’.
I hold no brief for Richard Dawkins, but I do for freedom of speech. Seeing such a passionate critic of religious fundamentalism recant in face of another fundamentalism – a feminist one – is a mark of how cowed men have become.