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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