Years ago I knew Richard Dawkins as a fellow evolutionary biologist (met him only once, at a memorial event for WD Hamilton, but we have numerous mutual friends and colleagues). To be frank, and I’m only being frank now because I’d prefer not to use my real name, Dawkins was considered a bit of an enigma. He had great fame (and fortune and privilege) but that was without doing much important research. I always defended him back in those days. His fame came from The Selfish Gene and his subsequent books, and his popularization of science was well done and important. Those who complained,and there were many (but always behind his back) were just jealous.
Then, later, Dawkins got famous in another area, as a spokesperson for atheism. In fact, as a leader of the Atheist movement worldwide. A major milestone in that digression from biology was, of course, his book, The God Delusion. In The God Delusion, he told most people in the world that they were afflicted with a psychiatric disorder that caused them to believe in god. Atheists totally ate this up and for good reason. Also, Dawkins did the whole thing in his quaint British Accent and that took some of the edge off of it, and really, he did it well.
Then Elevatorgate happened, which had absolutely nothing to do with Richard Dawkins, but he chimed in. When he chimed in he said “Ladies, there is no way to get raped in an elevator. All you have to do is push the Stop and Door Open button and leave.” (or words to that effect).
Then just a few weeks later the person of all the people in the world who is closest to me was raped in an elevator.
The rape was interrupted not by her pressing the stop or open button, because they did not work. The rape was interrupted because she decided to kick the rapist’s ass. Then, he was the one pushing the buttons and when the door finally opened he ran. But it certainly did not have to turn out that way. He happened to be unarmed, for example.
Anyway, Richard Dawkins is a dick and that is not just because of his name. He’s a dick because he is utterly unaware of his white, male, British, academic, authory, etc. etc. privilege. Which would be OK, because who really cares, but privilege interferes with activism and being the guy who wrote The God Delusion makes you an activist. Privilege interferes with being a member of a diverse community (diverse as in other people don’t have the same privilege). You can only be an effective leader of a movement if you recognize your membership in the community, even if as a leader.
But you can stay in charge for longer than most, for longer than you deserve, if you corner the market you’ve developed for yourself. My friend and colleague Sarah Moglia overheard Dawkins say something one day that seemed to be an example of his cornering the market. He told someone in charge of major public event that if a particular person was allowed to speak at that event, Dawkins would not go. In other words, he used his huge and unchecked privilege to get another speaker tossed off the podium.
Why? Who did he get tossed? When did this happen? Why are we only hearing about it now?
It all comes down to Elevators, real and metaphorical. And shoes. Dawkins is actually pretty short.
PS. I happen to know what Sarah is doing right now, as I’m writing this post. The image above is a clue so you can guess what that might be!