A toast to all our saviours, each so badly behaved?


I’ve been thinking about our heroes, what we expect of them, and how we turn on them. Two things have happened in the last few days to bring this up. The first of these was, unsurprisingly, Elevatorgate. The second was some conversations I’ve had with a friend* about Kate Bornstein- someone who I think is lovely, and who my friend has serious criticisms of and doesn’t like because of this.

I’m thinking of what we ask of the people we admire from a distance. The people who we have heard of, who we know as activists, whose work we read and are inspired by. The people we look to as spokespeople.

I’m thinking about how quickly we reject them.

Here’s the thing. Dawkins, in my opinion, has behaved abominably in relation to ElevatorGate. However, any of his behaviour from now on can’t negate his past work. A Devil’s Chaplain will always be dog-eared holiday nights, finally making sense of my lack of belief. The Ancestor’s Tale will always be the book I read oh-so-carefully, in whose detail and scale I found such profound, mindboggling awe.

I think that we reject people so strongly, not in spite of having admired them, but because we did. Because it’s hard to reconcile the fact that inspiration and ignorance can come from the same person. Because it’s hard, I think, to accept that a person who taught you so much can be so clueless. It makes us question ourselves, question everything we learned from that person in the first place. Question the times we admired them, the times we defended them.

And that’s hard. That’s hard work. It means learning to see these people as our equals. Learning to look at everyone- even our heroes- critically. Learning to accept that they’re just people who are as flawed as ourselves, who mess up as much as we do.

It’s a lot easier to just reject them wholesale.

I’m not recommending that we leave Dawkins (or whoever) off. The guy messed up, and needs to deal with what that means and what it implies. Messing up has consequences. And it should.

I do think, however, that we should be conscious of how we react when people we admire do godawful, ignorant things. And before we reject them wholesale, think about whether we’re rejecting them because of the ignorant thing they did, or because of the inspiring things before that.

*If you’re reading this, I didn’t name you because, hello, privacy. I’ll pop your name in if you like, though.

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6 thoughts on “A toast to all our saviours, each so badly behaved?

  1. I dunno. I think that what Emma said made sense. That there are OTHER people out there who make good points and aren’t dicks. I’d RATHER pay for their books. It’s about personal responsibility and I’d be having a slightly different opinion if Dawkins showed some regarding this topic and unreservedly apologised.

    • I don’t disagree with Rebecca at all there, to be honest. In the sense that it is good to give our resources (be they money or time) to people who aren’t being privileged assholes. Like I said, there have to be consequences for behaving abominably. And Dawkins really has behaved abominably.
      I do, however, feel that it’s also important to acknowledge that none of us is on a high horse here. None of us hasn’t done ignorant, privileged things, and pillorying people in a disproportionate fashion smacks of the assumption that we would never do something like that.
      I’m not really specifically talking about ElevatorGate here- for one thing, ElevatorGate is about far, far more than just Dawkins. I’m thinking in general about the way that we discount people as a whole when they do one messed-up thing.
      My thoughts on this one are still half-formed, though, so I’m happy to hear any nuances I’ve left out.

  2. I don’t think of Hermione as Emma. D:

    What was a greater fail than Dawkins’s was Naomi Wolf, and I still can’t just disregard everything she did. Before Wolf betrayed us all, she wrote a book called The Beauty Myth which I suspect in one way or another might have saved my life. And that definitely added to the awful, awful sense of How could you DO this? YOU! that I felt.

    I like Jackamo’s point though: there are people who aren’t dicks. It is absolutely true none of us are on a high horse. But when I do ignorant, privileged things I would like to think that I’ve always apologized for them. And people like Dawkins, people like Naomi Wolf, are privileged enough to be aware of thousands of people screaming at them when they’ve hurt those who admire them by doing something terribly wrong, unlike the rest of us who aren’t public figures.

  3. Perhaps we should avoid live saviours, and instead take ones who are safely deceased. Though this stratagem is not foolproof. I am a Christian but take issue with some of Jesus’s behavior (being a schmuck to mum, condescending to the disciples etc.) At least He is not likely to appear in the tabloids for making an embarrassing statement or falling down drunk in public. Though some of His prominent followers may.

  4. It’s incredibly tough when someone you’ve admired for a long time says or does something ignorant or hurtful. It’s easy to be angry, it feels like a betrayal and it hurts.

    It’s especially easy for us white male heterosexual folks to go through life and not once think about our privilege, it’s also easy for us to get our backs up when it’s pointed out, as at first thought it can seem like we’re being criticised for every aspect of our being when there’s nothing we can do about how we were born. But then, with some patience from some awesome people (Jen, Rebecca, Aoife, Greta etc), and some hard introspection, we can come to see the privilege we have, acknowledge it and realise that it’s not about blame; it’s about realising we have privilege and trying to understand how that effects our interactions in the world and at the end of the day, make that world a better place for everyone we share it with.

    I for one don’t expect the people I regard highly to be infallible, but I do expect them to own up to their mistakes and learn from them, after all, isn’t admitting when you are wrong something to truly be admired? I don’t expect Dawkins to instantly get why he is wrong, it’s taken me a long time to get to grips with my own privilege and I still get it wrong/do stupid things more times than I like to think about, but I do hope that he uses this as an opportunity to learn. If he did that, I’d regard him higher in my mind than if this incident had not happened at all.

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