Thursday, July 7

Dear Mr. Dawkins

Even though I know the chances of you reading this blog are non-existent to very minuscule, I think it might be enlightening to you or any other man to read this. I have read your comments on a blog post at PZ Myers and I have to say it just shows that, religious or not, men still obviously don’t really think about what half the human populace has to go through every day.

You are a very privileged person indeed, you know: you’re living in a ‘first world’ country, you are white, you are a male and you have a good income, making you a person ‘well off’ or even ‘wealthy’. Each of these privileges makes you superior to quite a number of people on this planet. As an inhabitant of a ‘first world’ country, you’re not likely to die young just because you don’t get medical attention or because you won’t get any medicine. You are not likely to suffer from severe hunger, either. As a white person (yes, I know, the political correct term would be ‘Caucasian’, but I don’t give a damn about political correctness), you are less likely to suffer a hate crime, you are less likely to be falsely accused and sentenced, you are more likely to get a good job and you are a good deal more likely to be taken seriously by people. As a person with a good income, you do not have to worry about where you next meal will come from or whether you can pay next month’s rent (if you pay rent at all and don’t own your own home). And as a male, you do not have to worry about the actions of your fellow men the way a woman does have to.

Yes, on the paper women are equal to men in every way in the ‘first world’. Yes, this is not the case for most Muslim countries around the world. But at the same time, just to point it out at the beginning, female circumcision is not part of the Islam, it is an old African tradition practised a long time before Islam came to this place. The other things you pointed out, like not being allowed to work or ever drive a car or leave the house on your own, like the threat of being stoned to death for adultery, are true for a lot of Muslim countries … definitely for all Muslim countries with a fundamentalist government. But paper is patient, as they say in my home country of Germany (another ‘first world’ country). A right on the paper is far from being a right being granted every day in the real world. Yes, a woman in a ‘first world’ country is rather unlikely to be forced to endure female circumcision (unless her family is from a country that practices it and finds a surgeon ready to do it). Yes, we can have jobs, can drive cars, can leave our homes alone and are not likely to be stoned for adultery. At the same time, our world isn’t yours or that of any man, no matter in which country.

You say words aren’t dangerous. Words can be dangerous, but that’s not even the point here. Words can lead to deeds and you, as a man of the world, should know that. While one man might take a ‘No’ after an invitation as it is, think ‘what a shame’ and move on, another might take the same ‘No’ as an insult to his ego and move in to assault the person who uttered it. And there’s no possible way for a woman to tell one from the other in this situation – before the assault happens or not, that is.

For a woman, riding an elevator with a man late at night (speak: at a time with little traffic in the elevator or any floor it might stop at), can indeed be a dangerous situation, certainly one to feel uncomfortable with. You claim an elevator is not an enclosed space, that simply to press a button will solve the problems? First of all, there’s a button that will stop the elevator immediately, even between floors, making it an enclosed space. Second, it doesn’t take a long time for a man to attack a woman and bring her down – travel time between two floors will be enough. Once a woman is down, her attacker is upon her, it doesn’t matter whether or not the elevator door is open. Late at night, chances are that a hotel floor with normal bedrooms and suites will be empty. Chances are even if that woman still is able to scream, she will not be heard. An elevator is an enclosed space long enough for the worst to happen, Mr. Dawkins. And, to be honest, enclosed space is not the only dangerous space … rapes have occurred in parks, on plazas, in the streets, all places that are anything but enclosed.

Personally, I don’t know what is worse, rape or murder. Sure, murder is a very final thing, but that can also be seen as something positive. Whatever is happening to you, it will soon be over. Rape, on the other hand, lasts for a long time after the actual deed … for the rest of a person’s life. And a man, once adult, is very unlikely to be raped at all. Once a man, like you, has outgrown childhood and early teens, has developed a mature body with the physical strength, but also the build it brings, he is unlikely to be raped by anybody. For a woman, no such time exists. From birth (as a lot of sad news prove) to the grave, a woman is always in danger of rape. Rape has nothing to do with sexual attraction. Rape has nothing to do with lust. Rape is about power and humiliation of others. Rape is the ultimate proof for the offender that they are superior to the victim. And in most cases of rape, the offender is male and the victim is female.

And women never feel safe around men, not completely. Sure, for most women, there’s no imminent thread in the close family. But whenever we step out of our home alone (which we are allowed to do), whenever we go to work or drive our car along a country road, we know we’re at risk. Some criminal cases of the past prove we’re at risk even in our homes. There was a man in Germany who climbed the facades of houses, entered second or third storey flats where women lived alone, then attacked and subdued them, tied them up and raped them repeatedly. If you can’t leave your window at least slightly open on a warm night when living on the third floor of a building, just because you’re a woman, where the hell can you feel safe then?

So let’s spell it out for all the men out there … including you, Mr. Dawkins. Certain things which a man may not take as serious at all will make a woman uncomfortable.

You first of all have to realize that being alone with a man they don’t know or don’t know well will make women uncomfortable as a rule. Woman trained in martial arts might not feel as uncomfortable, but I think we all feel a bit nervous anyway. I know it’s highly unfair of us to treat all men as potential rapists all the time, but we operate on the old proverb of being safe rather than sorry.

If you, therefore, want to initiate a conversation with a woman, it would be far more advisable to do it in a public place, preferable one frequented by people. The lounge, the lobby, the bar of a hotel are a much better place for it than the elevator. We are much more at ease in a surrounding in which we are not alone with another person, especially if said person is male.

If you want to strike a conversation with a woman, also refrain from inviting her to your room/flat/house/other dwelling of choice for coffee about a minute or less after you first addressed her. Most women take such an invite as a backhanded way of saying ‘want to have sex with me?’ Maybe we are wrong, maybe you also invite male strangers to your place for a cup of coffee, especially at a conference, just for a lively discussion about the topic. But ‘how about a cup of coffee at my place’ has, I fear, replaced the good old stamp collection as a means to lure someone into your bed.

If you want to spend time with a woman, want to talk to her, maybe get to know her a bit better, therefore approach her in a public place, invite her to a drink (coffee or otherwise) in a public place (a coffeehouse, a bar or what other place you find). Talk to her, listen to her (that is an important point) and make sure not to put pressure on her or make her feel uncomfortable.

If you find yourself in an enclosed space like an elevator with a woman and if you feel the need to talk to her (maybe because you feel uncomfortable with being there, because you’re claustrophobic yourself), make small-talk. Talk about the weather. Try not to stare at her too much, because she might think you’re evaluating your chances of overpowering her or are undressing her with your eyes. Or do what we Germans do in elevators on principles: say nothing. As a comedian here in Germany pointed out once: people rather drop dead because of lack of oxygen in elevators over here than utter a sound at all. But be assured that a woman will not begrudge you a fresh gulp of air regularly, so feel free to breathe while in the elevator.

Most women will not have sex with a stranger they have just met – and those who do normally pick that man up in special places like single bars, not in an elevator or at a conference. We have far more to lose than you men do, for once. Even a condom, the pill or both together are not a perfect protection from unwanted pregnancy … and there’s that annoying thing called sexually transmitted diseases. We prefer to meet a few times, learn more about the other person and then decide whether or not to have sex with him.

Most of all, always keep in mind that even in ‘first world’ countries women never feel completely at ease when in the company of one or more men they don’t know.

On another note, Mr. Dawkins, women do not have to live in Muslim countries to be physically threatened on a daily basis. You might not have heard about it, but rape is a common thing in South Africa, as an example. Women from lower levels of society are raped there quite often, most men think it’s normal to take a woman whenever they want – or that it is a ‘cure’ for female homosexuality to rape a woman repeatedly to make her see the positive points about having sex with a man. Rape is a physical thing, don’t you think so?

Maybe, Mr. Dawkins, it would be a good idea for you to, for once, employ that definitely brilliant mind of yours for something else. Imagine for a while that the world were upside down, that men were weaker than women, that women possessed the same delusion of superiority quite some men still have, that women could rape men as easily physically as it works the other way around in reality. Then imagine you had been in that elevator with a woman and she had acted the way the man has in the real case. Wouldn’t you, per chance, have felt uncomfortable with the whole situation yourself? Wouldn’t you, after hearing stories of sexual assault because of such ‘harmless’ conversations, have worried how the other person might take your ‘No’ in this case? Just think about it, before you use such an example the next time to make a point about other bad things happening in the world.