Homily: An Ill-Informed Feminist Attacks Jerry Coyne (plus Tweets)

Many of you who are good enough to subscribe to Heather’s Homilies only found me because you were already followers of Jerry Coyne’s site: ‘Why Evolution is True‘ (WEIT). Therefore, you you probably read his post on 28 December: ‘A real feminist‘. It’s about, “… Anna Muzychuk, a Ukrainian chess grandmaster who holds the women’s world titles in Rapid Chess and Blitz Chess.” Back then she was about to lose those titles because of her refusal to play in a tournament in Saudi Arabia. (It’s happened now.) This homily is about a couple of tweets Jerry was sent in response to that post.

First, back to Anna Muzychuk (what a cool surname!). On 23 December she made this announcement on Facebook:

In a few days I am going to lose two World Champion titles – one by one. Just because I decided not to go to Saudi Arabia. Not to play by someone’s rules, not to wear abaya, not to be accompanied getting outside, and altogether not to feel myself a secondary creature. Exactly one year ago I won these two titles and was about the happiest person in the chess world but this time I feel really bad.

I am ready. I am ready to stand for my principles and skip the event, where in five days I was expected to earn more than I do in a dozen of events combined. All that is annoying, but the most upsetting thing is that almost nobody really cares. That is a really bitter feeling, still not the one to change my opinion and my principles. The same goes for my sister Mariya – and I am really happy that we share this point of view. And yes, for those few who care – we’ll be back!

Most of Jerry’s post was praising Ms Muzychuk for taking a stand regarding women’s rights. There was also reference to seven Israeli players who couldn’t get visas to attend the tournament, presumably for religious reasons. He was especially tough on FIDE, chess’s international governing body, and their failure to stand up for the players. His post ends thus:

Well, screw FIDE, who didn’t defend the Israelis’ right to play with the world’s other chess champions. They should have ensured from the outset that no player would be barred because of their dress or their nationality. And if the Saudis didn’t comply, no tournament there. This isn’t rocket science, it’s simple civility and respect for other humans.

Now personally, I thought it was a good post. It was also consistent with previous posts Jerry has written on the same topic. Jerry is unfailing in standing up for equal rights and treatment for all people, not just women. As a friend, I also know this isn’t just talk – it’s how he lives his life.

As you probably know, posts are automatically put on social media (if you set WordPress up that way). When this particular post went onto Twitter, New Zealander Paul Coddington noticed a couple of responses and brought them to Jerry’s attention. (Jerry never reads them himself.) Jerry knew I would want to know about them, so he let me know as well. Here are the tweets in question:

This reaction from “Vansteenwinckel” is just the sort of response feminism doesn’t need.

Paul had this to say to Jerry:

It strikes me that this comment is both patronising and sexist. It smacks of the idea that truly supporting the rights of women is a privileged club which one needs permission from an insider to join. Also, it is also unclear what is meant by “he still has a long way to go”. Is this a reference to “ideological feminism” (as opposed to that form of feminism which is essentially humanism, basic respect and common decency with a topical focus on women’s issues)? It appears to me you support the latter and not the former and that perhaps it is being implied that this is simply not good enough.

Also, “Jerry missed some levels, but pretends he didn’t” is an accusation that I can’t see as justifiably having arisen from anything that you have written in that particular article or any other, but perhaps there is some private correspondence that accounts for it.

I agree with Paul.

The first tweet he found includes the comment:

But don’t inherently depict women who don’t have her exposure and power as ‘non-real’ feminists. Feminism is also about small gains for women who have less or no power at all.

For hours this comment left me completely baffled and my reaction was the same as Paul’s – that I didn’t see how Jerry did this.

However, I think I’ve worked out what she’s talking about. (It doesn’t, though, change my opinion that Jerry didn’t depict “… women who don’t have her exposure and power as ‘non-real’ feminists.”)

What I assume Vansteenwinckel is referring to is the women of Saudi Arabia. They have made small gains recently, such as the rights to vote and drive. Vansteenwinckel is implying that Jerry is denigrating the efforts of feminists in Saudi Arabia by not mentioning them in his post. Some feminists think this is a reason not to criticize Islam too.

Vansteenwinckel’s comment is frankly ridiculous.

English tweeter Frank Bath challenges Vansteenwinckel on her comment with the words, “Did Jerry imply that? No.” And he’s right too, of course.

Instead of apologizing, explaining, or even just backing out of the conversation altogether, Vansteenwinckel doubles down:

Jerry missed some levels, but pretends he didn’t. The more levels a man misses, the more he misunderstands #feminism.
I’d love to have #Evolutionistrue as an ally for #feminism, but he still has a long way to go.

There was no pretense on Jerry’s part. Assuming I’m correct and that it’s Saudi Arabian feminists Jerry is supposedly ignoring, how can he pretend not to be ignoring them if she doesn’t explain what she thinks he’s ignoring?

And when writing about anything, especially in the short form of a website article, it’s impossible to cover everything. This post was about Anna Muzychuk. Going off on a tangent about the Saudi Arabian women’s movement is outside the main topic.

Besides, Jerry has written several posts about the small gains of women in Saudi Arabia over the years. I remember one not long ago about women getting the right to drive there. Why go back over issues he’s written about in the past?

Then we get to, “The more levels a man misses, the more he misunderstands #feminism.” I could be pedantic and remind her he’s supposedly ignoring them, not missing them. That aside, there’s no indication in this article that Jerry misunderstands feminism. The implication is as Paul said – the problem in Vansteenwinckel’s mind isn’t really his level of understanding, it’s the fact he’s a man.

This is an attitude among some feminists that seriously pi$$e$ me off. And because they’re the angriest ones, they’re also the most vociferous, they say the most outrageous things, and therefore attract the most media attention. As a result, they give feminists the reputation of being unreasonable man-haters. They’re good for shifting the Overton Window I suppose. But seriously, most feminists find them a bit embarrassing. It’s even got to the stage where a lot of women won’t use the label “feminist” because they don’t want to be associated with this bunch.

Vansteenwinckel’s last stab is, “I’d love to have #Evolutionistrue as an ally for #feminism, but he still has a long way to go.” Well feminism does have Jerry Coyne as an ally. What they don’t have is someone who will parrot dogma such as, “All differences between male and female behaviour are created by culture.” As an evolutionary biologist Jerry knows that is not, in fact, true. However, as he has written multiple times, he does not think the differences that do exist should be an excuse to, for example, deny opportunities to women.

This kind of silly Twitter attack will not change the way Jerry behaves towards women. However, it is the sort of thing that those men who are looking for an excuse to justify their own unfair treatment of women will latch onto. Therein lies the problem.

Feminism, with or without a hashtag, can do without ill-informed attacks on people like Jerry.


Political Tweets

Typical of the hypocrisy in much of politics today, especially in the US. To be fair, the GOP aren’t the only ones doing it – they’re just the worst.

Mueller Time Tweets

An article confirming that the Russia probe did NOT begin because of the Trump dossier. (The dossier btw, has mostly been confirmed and was originally commissioned by a Republican. It was offered to the Clinton campaign because the Republican concerned pulled out of the campaign.)
(Via Ann German.)


Human Rights Tweets

Some images from the protests in Iran.


More from Iran. I wish praying worked so I could pray for all the good people standing up against the authoritarian theocracy there.


As always, there’s brutality.


Paul Ryan’s wet dream is coming true. While the rest of the world looks to increase support for the vulnerable and decrease income inequality, the US is going back to what the founding fathers supposedly left Europe to escape – a few wealthy lords and a bunch of peasants relying on the church for support in bad times. Because that is what is going to happen to the US with the economic changes that are happening.


Religion Tweets

I love Betty Bowers!
(Via Ann German.)


I have a new hero! British Professor Francesca Stavrakoupolou of Exeter University. Current head of the department of theology and religion. (This is from the NZ Association of Rationalists and Humanists Facebook page.)


Science Tweets

Ann German put this on my Facebook page. Like her, some of you might want to give it a go! It never gets cold enough where I live – I’m happy just to enjoy this vicariously. Correct me in the comments if I’m wrong, but I think the trick is to use just-boiled water.


Why is the sky blue? I’ve heard this stuff before but never really got it. But I always find Brian Cox’s explanations easy to understand for some reason.


Weather Tweets

Remember that embarrassing Trump tweet from yesterday where he showed he didn’t understand Climate Change, or the difference between weather and Climate Change? Here’s a great response!
(Via Ann German.)


History Tweets

Baby Popeye! (There’d probably be people complaining about this if it was on TV today.)


Poor horses. 😢


Art Tweets



Scenic Tweets

It’s quite funny really making a gif of it raining in London. (Because it’s (almost) always raining in England!) Still looks good, and I still want to go there though!


Insect Tweets

Cool critter!


Marine Tweets

I like how they’ve anthropomorphized the feelings of the cubs here.


I always knew there was something magical about otters!


How else would you eat them?


I might have to add a special section just for otters!


Other Animals Tweets

Red squirrel, grey squirrel, chipmunk and rabbit dining together. (As with all this chap’s videos, it goes on a bit – almost ten minutes. I didn’t have time to watch it all myself, but it’s a nice, peaceful watch if you do.)


Dog Tweets

This story (I think from Austria) is so sad, but at least it has a happy ending. I do not understand how people can be cruel to animals.


Lovely video!


Ha ha!!! He doesn’t want any!!! Great face!


Cat Tweets

This is wonderful!!!!


What a pretty kitty!




Give us a kiss!


Cat chases tail!


This cat knows a dog has the right to bestow approval on a cat!!!


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48 Responses to “Homily: An Ill-Informed Feminist Attacks Jerry Coyne (plus Tweets)”

  1. Jenny Haniver says:

    I agree with your comments on the response to PCC(E)’s post on Anna Muzychuk. The disapproving “Vansteenwinckel” has gone off on a tangent, read things into PCC(E)’s response that aren’t there, and conducted a dialog with herself. However, I’ve got to say that the more I learn about this new crown prince dude in Saudi Arabia, the more alarmed I become. Women driving and movies are nothing more than bread and circuses to him; well, not ‘nothing more’, because his ‘liberalization’ policies for the people cynically turn women and those who would patronize ‘modern’ establishments, etc., into nothing more than hapless and unwitting pawns for his dangerous ambitions. That’s my opinion of things at the moment.

    • Jenny Haniver says:

      Another cynical manipulation of the populace, women again, in this case — Iran. I missed it if you reported that the morals police have announced that women who don’t confirm to the dress codes and wear the chador will no longer be arrested How long have these recent civic protests against the regime been going on in Iran, which have not abated? Another sop to the people; sounds like they’ve taken a hint from their arch-enemy, the Saudis. Yes, small gains are important, but one can’t ignore the larger context and implications in these dictatorial, reactionary societies.

      • Jenny Haniver says:

        Lest any Christian try to make common cause with me on these matters, I’ve hung around Pauline Christians, their women wear head scarves and are subservient to men, and if they could worm their way into American government, they’d damned sure force women, Christian or not, to wear their Christian hijab.

      • nicky says:

        Very small steps indeed: when violating the strict dress code they still face ‘ re-education classes’. And it is not clear if it is only in Teheran either.

    • It’s not as bad for the Saudi princesses and other wealthy women he mixes with. They abandon the abaya etc on ther regular trips out of the country. Their daughters go to private schools in England and France, then university there as well as Canada, Australia, the US, and NZ where they live pretty normal lives. For those who are stuck in the country, voting and driving are too little, too late, though better than nothing.

      Otoh, they allow the Crown Prince to say he’s doing stuff. What disgusts me most is that so many imams think even these things are too much.

    • nicky says:

      Jenny, I agree that allowing women to drive is about the least of things, nevertheless a positive.
      Mr Mohammad bin Salman is a weird kettle of fish indeed.
      He’s known for propagating the war against the (shiite) Houti’s in Yemen (with some definite smell of genocide), and has been known to be very harsh on peaceful protesters, using anti-terrorism laws.
      On the other hand he was quite good at limiting the powers of the religious police. He advocated for “Green cards” for non-Saudis, and now the driving thing, and attacking the ‘wali’ system (“chaperones” for women ).
      I think one of his driving motives is to get rid of the powers of the Wahhabist clergy in the KSA. I think he sees them as impeding modernisation, but I do not think he sees actual democracy as part of that modernisation.
      I’m not steeped enough in Saudi politics to have a definitive opinion. I guess we’ll see more when is is the actual King.

  2. E.A. Blair says:

    “Baby Popeye! (There’d probably be people complaining about this if it was on TV today.)”

    That’s not a baby Popeye – that’s Swee’Pea, whose relation to Popeye and Olive Oyl varied. In the Popeye newspaper strips, he was abandoned on Popeye’s doorstep and the sailor raised him as a son. In the earlier film cartoons, he was in Olive’s care with no account of his parentage; in later cartoons, he was Popeye’s nephew.

    A number of cartoons featuring Swee’Pea involved the baby crawling off on his own and narrowly avoiding peril after deadly peril while his would-be rescuers (usually Popeye but sometimes with Olive Oyl’s assistance) fall prey to the hazards the baby avoids. The humor, of course being that the naive and oblivious infant is actually perfectly safe while the adults supposedly protecting him are not up to the task. A similar cartoon had a sleepwalking Olive wandering through the hazards of a construction site while Popey, trying to rescue her, gets repeatedly pummeled. These cartoons usually end with Swee’Pea crawling back to his crib (or Olive returning to her bed) completely unharmed.

  3. nicky says:

    Good defense of Jerry, Heather, well covered. Vansteenwinckel is pecksniffing so hard she sounds off her rocker. A disservice to women and feminism indeed.

  4. rickflick says:

    Stavrakoupolou is a very interesting character. I like what she is saying about her study of the bible as a cultural foundation, but I was annoyed when she criticized Richard Dawkins position as an atheist. She, also an atheist, claimed he is rude and unkind to people, while she “respects” believers. First of all Dawkins is not rude and unkind. He is simply direct in his opposition to religion. He points out that it can do a lot of harm and so should not be supported or respected as an ideology. He doesn’t disrespect the religious adherents, but he does criticize their holding on to myths to the detriment of society. He doesn’t call believers stupid as she claims, but calls them ignorant which is an entirely different matter. You’d think she would know better.

    • nicky says:

      True that, needless and incorrect swipe at Dawkins.

    • HaggisForBrains says:

      I agree. Too often these days people interpret or use ignorant as a synonym for stupid, or, even worse, as a synonym for rude. Dawkins uses it in its original sense of lacking knowledge.

      It’s encouraging to see a professor of theology and religion who is herself an atheist. It makes sense, though. One can only be an expert on religion in general if one is not an adherent of one particular religion. I hope we’ll see her soon fronting theology broadcasts in her lively witty style.

      • nicky says:

        Yes Haggis, that probably is ‘spot on’, a too negative interpretation of the term ignorant. Dawkins often tells people to inform themselves (“Go to the Museum’ and the like), so his use in the original sense should be clear.
        (Small nitpick: ‘ignorant’ is already somewhat negative in it’s original sense, and due to this ‘stupid’ connotation, its use maybe considered rude. I do not think ‘ignorant’ as such is used as a synonym for ‘rude’ ).

      • darrelle says:

        “It’s encouraging to see a professor of theology and religion who is herself an atheist. It makes sense, though. One can only be an expert on religion in general if one is not an adherent of one particular religion.”

        As Hector Avalos is wont to point out the academic pursuit of religious studies, in his case he is talking about Biblical studies specifically, has been devastating to itself. It started out with believers using the tools of academia to investigate and corroborate Christian mythology as historically accurate but the result turned out to be just the opposite and now there are hardly any academic Biblical scholars still in the business.

    • I agree. I didn’t like her attack on Dawkins either and I think she’s wrong. He is just honest about the potential damage religion can do, and the damage is huge as any look at history and the current state of the planet can attest. As Ricky Gervais says (though more eloquently), it’s hard to sound nice when you’re telling someone they’re wrong.

    • Diana MacPherson says:

      I’m convinced it’s Richard Dawkins’s accent that gives people the impression that he’s rude. They just assume he’s snooty.

  5. Stuartg says:

    Love the interview with Francesca Stavrakoupolo. I need to look for more information from her!

    • If you have access to Facebook, a reader put some stuff there when I posted the video on the Heather’s Homilies Facebook page. Another tells me Stephen Knight aka Godless Spellchecker interviewed her, so that should be pretty easy to find.

  6. nicky says:

    Love that interview with Francesca Stavrakoupolou. She’s quite funny too.
    Had hoped though for more info, eg. the “Moses in a basket in the river” theme is quite a bot older, the Sumerian story about King Sargon or even Romulus and Remus (IIRC).
    I’m sure she could tell us much more about such things, but I guess that is asking a bit much for a short interview.

  7. Excellent piece, Heather. I am frankly baffled by the sort of feminist whose response to a piece written in support of the actions of a brave woman is to find something to attack.

    • Thanks Thomas, and I am too, which is one of the reasons I decided to write about it. Some people always seem to have to find something to criticize, no matter what. The main reason though was just that I get sick of this sort of feminist. What we women want is equality of treatment and opportunity, and to be treated fairly and equally. Unreasonable attacks against people who are already allies does more harm to our cause than good.

  8. Bruce Swanney says:

    I fear for the safety of those brave Iranian women.
    The response to Coyne’s posting is a little on the nitpicky side and hardly qualifies as an “attack”

    • I agree that this particular attack isn’t a major one. There are far worse extremist feminists out there and if they happen to get my attention at a time I feel like writing again on the topic it will happen. They’ll also get far harsher treatment from me than this more minor one did.

      But women’s equality is something I’ve felt strongly about from quite early in my life. I remember arguing about the issues at length with my (sexist) father when I was only seven. There are certain things that bug me more than others, and my way of dealing with them is to write about them.

  9. Lee Knuth says:

    Thank you again for a wonderful post. Loved the interview with Francesca Stavrakoupolou. Living in the US the bible gets a workout often with disasterous results.

  10. Thanks for this Heather. One note so that people don’t think I was asking you to defend me: Paul explicitly asked me to forward his email to you knowing that you’d have your own take on this kerfuffle. Had he not asked, I would have kept it to myself.

    Happy 2018!

    • Yes. I should make this clear too. Jerry didn’t ask me to do this, and didn’t expect it when he sent me Paul’s email. It’s just that, as I’ve said in another comment, this topic (extremist feminists making things worse instead of better) is one that bugs me. Equality for women has been a big motivator for me as long as I can remember. (The treatment of women by religion is also the first thing that turned me against religion, even while I still had a strong faith in God.) Physics meant I would write about this once I found out about it – no other reason.

      In fact, the only thing being friends had to do with me writing this is that I wouldn’t have found out about it otherwise. If something like this had happened involving people I didn’t personally know, I still would have written this.

      Jerry is obviously perfectly capable of defending himself and doesn’t need me to do it for him! I only spoke up because, as I said, the topic is one I feel strongly about.

  11. I really admire your championing of Jerry here, Heather. I have always considered him to be forthright and honest. If one tried hard enough, one can infer that another either omitted or augmented items according to his or her standards, wishes or expectations. I think you ably unwrapped both sides of the “argument” to prove Jerry an steady ally of feminism. Bravo!

  12. Randall Schenck says:

    I’ll play the dumb male here because I am good at that. When the feminist and her coded outbursts must be interpreted by another female before many of us have a clue what is being said or why, it might be time to change your way of communicating the word or cause you are after. Also, this just shows why twitter is a poor place to communicate much of anything but snap shots and misunderstood comments. Anyway, I can certainly understand why I have nothing to do with twitter.

    • True. It reminds me a bit of all Trumps followers having to explain what he really meant all the time.

      I certainly don’t think the woman who did these tweets is in his league though. Most women who say this stuff, except for a few hard core ones, are basically fine. It’s just that they are being strongly influenced by others on this topic. They think they’re doing the right thing. They see that the hard core ones are getting a lot of attention so they think they must be doing it right. It’s one of the problems of the modern celebrity culture imo where people get famous for not doing much. I put a Big Think talk on this in a tweet recently. I think I’ll find it and post it so people can watch it. It’s controversially named – something like “How Americans Got So Stupid” or similar iirc. (I hope it’s something like that anyway or I’ve just made a huge Freudian slip. Good thing Freud has no credibility anymore!)

  13. GBJames says:

    Thanks, again, Heather for being on-point.

  14. Mark Joseph says:

    “Well feminism does have Jerry Coyne as an ally. What they don’t have is someone who will parrot dogma such as, “All differences between male and female behaviour are created by culture.” As an evolutionary biologist Jerry knows that is not, in fact, true.”

    Pretty much the best in-a-nutshell analysis of the entire situation. As Jerry has repeatedly pointed out, we (the classical liberals) need to hold firm against the totalitarians of both the right and the left.

    It’s my contention that the noisemakers (the Linda Sarsours, the profs and special snowflakes, er, students at Evergreen, Wilfrid Laurier, and other colleges, the intersectional whiners, etc.) are not really all that concerned with helping reduce injustice in the world in concrete, substantive ways; rather, they are interested in grabbing cultural power for themselves by a combination of pandering to the other authoritarian leftists and browbeating and bullying classical liberals, who would, of course, in a rational world be considered as their natural allies against the neo-fascist right. I mean (to pick some low-lying fruit), when some professor of Cultural Whining criticizes a white girl for wearing hoop earrings, or some guy for holding his chopsticks wrong, does that *really* make for a better world? No. Does it *really* help women or people of color to be treated better, obtain respect, or increase their economic potential? No, no, and no, respectively. But, it does make them feel the power of the oppressor (something they themselves pretend to descry) for a moment–longer if the victim acquiesces.

    While hardly The Answer, I do think it will be helpful when we see these types of rantings from the Control-Left to ask what the results of their words and/or activities would be: increased justice for all? Or increased personal power of the person doing the ranting? Sort of a politico-cultural version of “follow the money”.

    As always, kudos to Heather (and Jerry) for turning over rocks to shine light on some of the bugs underneath.

    • Thanks Mark. I personally find the authoritarian left to be nothing more than a bunch of bullies. They want to control people just as much as those on the far right. The only reason most people don’t see the threat they present is that most of we classical liberals agree with a lot of what they say.

      I’m always brought back to a quote from Bill Maher – “the problem with many left-wing liberals is that they’ve forgotten about liberalism”. He said it because he got criticized by the far-left for criticizing Islam.

  15. darrelle says:

    You’re really rather good at this sort thing Heather, analyzing issues in a sensible way. Of course I may be biased since I almost always agree with you. But your writing is much clearer than I can ever manage.

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