Yesterday, as everyone knows, Richard Dawkins tweeted this: "Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse. If you think that's an endorsement of date rape, go away and learn how to think." The responses I've seen are pretty well summarized by the sarcastic title of the Jez piece on the subject: "Thank Goodness Richard Dawkins Has Finally Mansplained Rape" — along with (heartwrenching) personal accounts from rape victims who are offended by this man daring to rank the horrible crimes that have been committed against them, or who simply want to explain why his statement is a false generalization.
Today, Dawkins wrote an explanation of his tweet (not an apology so not a non-apology!), and that prompted me to look at his twitter feed and see how the drama played out.
Reading that piece, and looking at his timeline, I realized that he wasn't asserting the rape-type-comparison. Though it may be something he believes, he was very clearly trying to make a point about logic which was relevant to the conversation he was having at the time about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He'd faced blow back for having commiserated with the people of Gaza, and was trying to defend the view that, in Christopher Hitchens' words, "It is reasonable to deplore both the original founding of the Jewish State of Israel & aspirations now to destroy it." In response to the sort of absolutist thinking that leads some people to interpret criticizing Israel as automatically anti-Semitic, or criticizing Hamas as automatically pro-Israel, he made a point about logic: "X is bad. Y is worse. If you think that's an endorsement of X, go away and don't come back until you've learned to think logically."
Often when people make points about logic, they flesh them out for their readers by replacing the variables with examples. Often these examples are pretty nonsensical. They're intended to just make the logical point intuitively clear. Explaining modus ponens, a teacher might start off with if x then y, x, therefore y. They might then say, If Kirov eats a hamburger for lunch, it will rain today. Kirov ate a hamburger for lunch. Therefore, it will rain today. This is a valid argument and yet totally nonsensical because of course there's no causal relationship between my lunch and future meteorological states.
I think this was what Dawkins was trying to do with his rape-type-comparison. Now I'm not saying that he doesn't believe his example to be true — maybe he does, maybe he doesn't. He quickly explained that you can reverse the example and say date rape is worse than stranger rape, but that his logical point holds — that ranking things =/ endorsing either.
What bothers me is that reading the coverage yesterday, it was nowhere made clear that there had been a context for his remark (his discussion about Gaza) that explained why he needed to make a point about logic. Jezebel didn't devote one single word to explaining the context, or even noting that the formal tweet — "X is bad. Y is worse. If you think that's an endorsement of X, go away and don't come back until you've learned to think logically" — came before the tweet about rape, and that the latter was very clearly meant to just flesh it out and not assert a belief about types of rape.
His example was unfortunate. It was tone-deaf. A rape victim myself, I wrote about how and why I disagreed with him that stranger rape is worse than date rape. But I'm infuriated that the coverage manipulated me into thinking he was out to talk about rape in a stupid mansplainy way, when it's quite clear that wasn't what happened. I, personally, find that much, much more offensive than what he actually said. Why didn't Jez and other sites explain the situation accurately and then allow us to decide how much outrage was warranted? Or where to direct it? I might have argued that rape is too sensitive a subject to use when fleshing out logical schemas; that's a totally different argument than what I did make about the impossibility of ranking how bad different types of rape are.
I guess my point here is not so much to defend him (note the question mark in my title), but to express irritation that in telling me this story, Jez and other sites were more than happy to give me the Quick! Outrage! Now! version. The context was deliberately omitted, and I can't think of any reason that would have been done except to manipulate readers — including readers who are rape victims. To me, that seems even more callous than what Dawkins said to begin with.
Anyway, these are just some thoughts I was having. Maybe I'm wrong. I'm curious about what you guys think.
ETA: I forgot an important point. Dawkins, as he makes clear in his explanation, was trying to prompt a discussion of the logical examination of emotionally charged topics, prompted by his sense that people weren't talking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict logically and were too absolutist in their thinking. His example was not random, like my hamburger/weather analogy might have suggested. But nonetheless, it wasn't an assertion about rape. (Unless I'm misunderstanding.)
ETA2: I hope it's clear that my main point here is not about the rightness or wrongness of Dawkins saying what he said. It's about the way the media (including Jez) chose to present it to us.