Controversial biologist Richard Dawkins recently caused outrage on Twitter after tweeting that “date rape is bad, stranger rape at knifepoint is worse”. He also commented that “mild date rape is bad, violent date rape is worse” and that “mild pedophilia is bad, violent pedophilia is worse”.
He used these as examples of logical thinking during a debate about language and logic, saying that the comparison of two bad things does not endorse the “less serious” one.
It’s left a lot of people, myself included, scratching their heads about why he chose the hugely emotive subject of rape as an example, and when he went from being an admirable advocate of science to a heartless, cruel man who seems to have completely missed the point of rape.
First things first, there is no such thing as “mild rape”. All rapes are terrible, traumatic experiences that will most likely change the victim’s life forever. In all cases, the man is equally culpable and the victim’s right to control what happens to their own body is broken in one of the most horrifying ways possible. Having sex with someone when they do not consent is a big deal, it’s rape – there are no degrees of seriousness, there are no rapes that are “mild” or not as legitimate as others.
No Apology From Arrogant Richard Dawkins
Far from apologising for carelessly using rape and child abuse as examples of logical thinking when it became obvious that victims were genuinely upset about his remarks about “mild rape” and “mild pedophilia”, he instead chose to leave the conversation with this snide remark: “What I have learned today is that there are people on Twitter who think in absolutist terms, to an extent I wouldn’t have believed possible.”
In other words, no apology, just a little tantrum about how he wishes rape victims would stop being so emotional and absolutist and instead embrace cold, hard logic when thinking about their complex and multifaceted experiences of rape.
A Little Word On Compassion
Now, I am a huge supporter of logical thinking and the scientific method – but I also believe in compassion, especially compassion for victims of crime. Victims of rape and child abuse have already been subjected to indefensible horrors, they should not be so casually used in a theoretical debate about language, or so cruelly dismissed when they understandably become upset about their experiences being labelled as “mild”.
Dawkins could have used anything to support his argument about logic – indeed he did use theft as a perfectly good example – he didn’t have to labour on about his perception of degrees of seriousness of rape, he didn’t have to continue when rape victims were so obviously getting upset, and he certainly didn’t have to callously dismiss their hurt as if it were unfounded, like their experience of rape were not a big deal and not something to get upset about.
For such an intelligent man, Richard Dawkins certainly acted stupidly – and he revealed that regarding the subjects of rape, compassion and respect he is just as ignorant as those uneducated people whom he so despises.
Image credit: The Times