|Bill Bailey, hilarious feminist|
Richard Dawkins weighed in on the sex/gender dispute, pretty much attributing all of the consternation to a blanket disapproval of the "million dollar challenge" (an experiment intended to show that women are essentially sexual gate keepers by asking how many men would accept a million-dollar bet to find a woman who would sleep with them by the end of the day, versus how many women would) and the use of the word "females" to refer to women. Missing the point rather grandly, I would say, in agreement with Jen McCreight's comment here.
But what mainly irks me is this: he is able to say, honestly and truthfully, that "When the Million Dollar Challenge was offered at the American Atheists meeting, it deeply offended some feminists." Which, of course, allows commenters who find the offense unjustified to immediately set upon the "feminists." Oh, those darn feminists, always so outraged about the silliest little things. No sense of humor or perspective. Only a feminist would be bothered over this "hysterical twaddle" (as Dawkins put it). I'm trying to imagine what would happen if an experiment regarding race was presented at a meeting, and he said that it "deeply offended some people concerned with racial relations." One would hope that everyone is concerned about racial relations, and so would find it rather ridiculous to say something like "People concerned with racial relations getting offended, nothing new to see here."
Likewise, I would say that everyone should be concerned about gender relations. It's certainly open for debate whether feminism should be primarily about disposition (as in, "I believe firmly that women are equal in value to men and should have the same rights as far as is possible") or disposition and interests ("I believe all of that, plus I'm specially concerned with how women are viewed socially by men and each other"). There are plenty of people in the former group who don't consider themselves feminists because they're not also in the latter. There are also, I'm sure, plenty of people who are in both groups but who don't call themselves feminists because they associate them exclusively with those people who are irrationally outraged, however you might choose to define that. I don't like being associated with Andrea Dworkin, but that certainly isn't enough to make me disavow membership in an entire body of people concerned with gender on the broader scale.
If Dawkins had said that when the Million Dollar Challenge was presented, it "deeply offended some women," it would have implied that women are the only ones, rightly or wrongly, who would be offended by the Challenge. If the issue had been race, it would have been like saying that the experiment "deeply offended some black people." Even though the word "some" is in there, the assumption is that offense would only be felt by members of the specific group being discussed. But aren't we at the point now that that assumption is entirely unjustified? That you don't have to be a minority to be offended by racism, female to be offended by sexism, gay to be offended by homophobia?
By asserting that the offended party are feminists, Dawkins is suggesting that feminists (however he defines them) are the only ones who would be offended. Since he does this as part of a dismissal of what he calls "hysterical twaddle," it seems pretty clear that he thinks of feminists as being the type of people to get offended in the form of hysteria about twaddle. Some of them clearly are. But that has nothing to do with whether the offending object in fact is hysterical twaddle. People concerned about race issues often differ on whether a particular act or idea should be considered racist, and hence presumably worth getting bothered about. People concerned about gender often differ on whether a particular act or idea should be considered sexist or otherwise problematic in that regard, and hence worth getting bothered about. I happen to think that the most appropriate term for the latter group is "feminists," and therefore that slamming feminists as a group makes a person look like an arse. And I don't support enabling arses to proliferate in their arsiness. You don't get to dismiss the legitimacy of offense about something by identifying the group offended by it, and certainly not by dismissing the group offended by it. That's the essence of the ad hominem fallacy.