Right, can we get something straight here, do we think?
No one who insists that a woman should be protected from unpleasant messages, from invitations to coffee, or from criticism because she is a woman is any kind of feminist. If you put your opinions out there in a public forum, those opinions are subject to dissent and mockery – ownership of a vagina doesn't change that. More shockingly, I contend that even people who own [hushed whisper] penises are allowed to disagree with you. No, really. I know that sounds radical.
Rebecca Watson has appeared in Slate this week to bitch some more about how hard it is to be her – an educated, white, middle-class American woman whose rights are protected under law.
She claims she's been “grabbed and groped” at atheist conventions, and if that's true then THAT – I completely acknowledge – is out of order. But guess what? I get groped from time to time in bars and clubs, and on trains too. Do I blame that on the clubbing community? Do I blame it on commuters? Er, no – I blame it on the people who grope me. I'm not sure how that's difficult to understand. And no one's denying such people exist, by the way, even among the atheist community.
As for the rest of Watson's claims, that she receives nasty emails and tweets... well, so fucking what? I stated a few weeks ago in a tweet that I've never received abuse from other atheists. Since posting THAT tweet, I have. And again – so fucking what? What sane reason could I possibly have to think I can say something people won't like in a public space and expect not to get shit for it?! I've been getting sexist comments, sexually graphic messages, even direct threats from religious people for years. Do I blame the religious community for that? Again, no – because the vast majority of religious people don't behave like that.
I think the most galling part of that Slate article is the way Watson's wedged Richard Dawkins in there. I've suspected for some time that she's far more interested in creating a platform for herself than in fighting any kind of social injustice – I mean, the only right she seems to be interested in is her own right to piss and moan about how tough she has it, and she doesn't seem to have noticed that nobody's denying her that. I wish Dawkins hadn't sent that “Dear Muslima” note, not because I think he's wrong but because his doing so has given this shamelessly self-absorbed and deeply manipulative pseudofeminist more exposure than her opinions ever deserved.
Incidentally, she's given herself away dreadfully with her criticism of Dawkins' “Dear Muslima” comment – I'm astonished she didn't realise it before submitting her piece to Slate. She's slammed Dawkins for telling her – legitimately - that Western women haven't got it as bad as women in the Islamic world... ON THE SAME PAGE as telling us about this incident:
I don't need the patronising protection of Watson and others of her view, and I resent the implication that she speaks for me because I'm a woman too. I am not a weak, defenceless little creature hiding in the corner from all the nasty men, and I don't need to be rescued and patted on the head by anybody, not even another woman. Seriously; I can look after myself, thank you.
So, men; we all know how Watson thinks you're allowed to act, speak and think. Basically, you're not allowed to – not if Watson is present. I happen to think that's a little unreasonable, so here are some guidelines I set out should you happen to care what I think (unlike Watson, though, I don't make the assumption that you do):
1: Say what you like to me. If you disagree with me, say so. If you want to call me a cunt, go for it. I won't necessarily pay a blind bit of attention to you if the latter is how you choose to approach me, but I won't stop you doing it. Why would I? It's just a word, and as someone opposed to blasphemy laws in all forms it'd be pretty hypocritical for me to then turn around and say “but you have to be polite to me”.
2: (This one goes for women too.) If you would like to ask me for coffee - or even for sex - ask me. Really, it's fine. I'm quite capable of saying “no” should I wish to. Being attracted to someone is not a problem; in fact, some biologists and anthropologists have advanced the opinion that it's normal and even necessary.
3: Just think about it before you touch me. A touch on the arm or a playful nudge probably won't bother me if we're getting on, but a hand on my arse probably will (unless we're really getting on). Use your common sense; read my body language, listen to what I'm saying, put yourself in my place - and if you think physical contact would be unwelcome don't make it. I'm not an alien, I'm just a person. If that's too complicated, then wait to see if I touch you first – fairly or not, being female means I don't have to worry so much about making you feel intimidated (although I will, of course, also refrain from touching you if it seems likely to be unwelcome).
4: The above said, don't touch my breasts or my crotch however well you think we're getting on. If I'm OK with that level of physical contact, you'll know about it and we won't be at a damn convention.
5: This is the most important one, really; 99% of you don't need to worry about these guidelines. You're fine. The vast majority of you are not misogynistic gropers and you already think of women as, y'know, real people. And let's face it; the 1% of men who do think it's OK to grope a woman without her permission basically have no interest in how women would like them to behave, anyway. So carry on as you are, and don't let yourself get suckered into thinking women are feeble little things who'll be scared if you talk to them. THAT is condescending and sexist, and THAT pisses off reasonable women.