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Hitchens, Hitchlings, and Feminism

December 22, 2011

How do you distill the views of a writer as prolific, as controversial, and as influential as Christopher Hitchens into a sentence?  I’ve been struggling for over a week to put together a coherent post to commemorate the atheist firebrand, struggling to reconcile how Hitch influenced my own feminist and interfaith-inspired “atheist activism” with the anti-religious and anti-Muslim bigotry exemplified by so many others who consider themselves to be “atheist activists.”

Yet meanwhile, the crack team at Urban Dictionary has already written their own tribute to Hitch, in the form of a one-sentence definition for the word hitchling. The definition, devoid of  the sexual innuendo and raunchy humour typical of the site, is a genuinely flattering tribute to the infamous intellectual.   Apparently a hitchling is:

a child void of religious indoctrination who is encouraged to read broadly and to seek the truth unapologetically (In memoriam of Christopher Hitchens)

Going strictly by the definition, I honestly wouldn’t mind raising a child as a hitchlingCan anyone really argue with encouraging a child to seek a well-rounded education and to be willing to question anything, including organized religion?  As an atheist, I have no desire to instill religious indoctrination on a child, and aren’t all children born atheists anyways?

Christopher Hitchens even left for posterity a reading list of suggested books for raising hitchlings, thanks to the inquisitive mind of an eight-year old girl named Mason Crumpacker. That list, along with the charming story of how Mason asked Hitch for the list in front of an entire atheist convention, is available at the blog Why Evolution is True.

Yet the list Hitch provided to the young woman is startlingly devoid of female writers with one exception–Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the former Muslim turned conservative darling, thanks to her harsh critiques of Islam in Infidel and Nomad: From Islam to America: A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations. There’s no other feminist voices to inspire and teach a young woman to be confident and strong in her own abilities, and no texts by genderqueer or transgender individuals who dared to question one of society’s most dangerous “truths” by simply existing–the “truth” of gender.   Instead Hitch left us with a list of great white men–Chaucer, Shakespeare, Hume, Dickens, etc.–names I certainly would recommend as well, but a list of names wholly lacking in diversity.

I’m not really surprised.  In the dubiously titled video “Christopher Hitchens versus Feminism,” Hitch offers his thoughts on gender roles and parenting, smugly suggesting that women are called “the gentler sex for a reason,” and that “they shouldn’t work if they don’t have to.”  His slyly hidden smile suggests that he’s playing the audience for laughs, and it’s unclear if he has any agenda other than to humiliate his female questioner. Just watch the video and ask yourself: could Hitch ever raise a hitchling? Is Hitch really a good role model for someone who can question the truth unapologetically?  Or was Hitch more obsessed with appearing clever than engaging in serious questions about gender and gender roles?


  1. Joe permalink

    Slightly annoying how you’ve misquoted him. He doesn’t say that women shouldn’t work if they don’t HAVE to, he says that they can work if they want, and that he’s thrilled if they do, but they shouldn’t work if they don’t WANT to. There is a difference. And the gentler sex remark is clearly facetious.

  2. Charles permalink

    Was Hitchens still with us when the full facts of Ayaan Hirsi Ali story were revealed? Is she still counted as the sole female voice among the male dominated atheist writing scene after it came out that most of her story was only a fictional attempt to defraud Dutch immigration authorities?

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