Atheists, Don’t Be That Guy

When it comes to demolishing irrational beliefs, the atheist community has done a brilliant job. But when it comes to rooting out sexism in our own ranks, we have a long way left to go.

Witness the blowup that took place at a conference in Dublin last month, where Rebecca Watson of Skepchick gave a talk about the religious right’s war on women… and then, that same night, was propositioned by a stranger who cornered her in an elevator at 4 AM. (See her recap and these two third-party accounts).

This attracted the predictable crop of apologists who asserted loudly, not just that Rebecca was wrong to be frightened or upset by this, but that she was wrong to publicly disagree with the people who asserted that there was nothing wrong with this man’s behavior. But what really made my jaw drop was that Richard Dawkins, or at least someone claiming to be Richard Dawkins [EDIT: It was confirmed that this was actually Dawkins —Ebonmuse], showed up on PZ’s site and made the following astonishingly obtuse and ignorant comments:

Dear Muslima

Stop whining, will you. Yes, yes, I know you had your genitals mutilated with a razor blade, and… yawn… don’t tell me yet again, I know you aren’t allowed to drive a car, and you can’t leave the house without a male relative, and your husband is allowed to beat you, and you’ll be stoned to death if you commit adultery. But stop whining, will you. Think of the suffering your poor American sisters have to put up with.

Similarly, Rebecca’s feeling that the man’s proposition was ‘creepy’ was her own interpretation of his behaviour, presumably not his. She was probably offended to about the same extent as I am offended if a man gets into an elevator with me chewing gum. But he does me no physical damage and I simply grin and bear it until either I or he gets out of the elevator.

I’m guessing that Richard Dawkins (if this was truly him) has never lived in an environment where larger, stronger men are constantly offering him chewing gum, and getting aggressive and even violent if he declines. The uncomfortable reality is that we live in a society where sexual harassment and sexual violence against women is accepted and condoned to a far greater extent than any remotely comparable violence against men. Men who fail to grasp this and act as if women are being unreasonable to fear it are just flaunting their own ignorance. Take this classic demonstration in which men and women were both asked what they do to avoid sexual harassment every day, which brought forth a torrent of responses from the women while the men stood there in befuddlement:

For many males, public space is either something they feel an entitlement over, or something that is neutral and to be simply travelled through. For almost all women… public space is loaded with threat that must be managed.

The man who propositioned Rebecca Watson, whatever his individual intentions, can’t be separated from this societal background. Maybe he was just too shy to approach her in public; maybe his intentions were entirely innocent. But that doesn’t matter. We want women involved in the skeptical movement, and if they feel harassed or creeped out or uncomfortable, they won’t be. It does us no good whatsoever to say, “You’re wrong to take offense at this, so you should just overlook it.” That won’t get them to drop their objection; it will just make them stop showing up. Worse, it will only cement women’s impression of atheist men as a bunch of rude, clueless know-it-alls who don’t care about the effect of their behavior on others.

Let me tell you a story that wasn’t about sex, but that has a similar take-away. I was at the Freedom from Religion Foundation’s convention in Madison last October, where I met up with a friend (hi, Linda!), who was telling me about the correspondence she’d been having with Annie Laurie Gaylor about bringing some of the FFRF’s billboards to her area. She also told me, much to my amusement, that she’d heard about a student who’d plagiarized one of my essays for the FFRF’s college scholarship competition. (I’m flattered by that, in a weird way, but really – do you think you’ll get away with plagiarizing something that’s so easy to Google?)

Annie Laurie walked by our table while we were discussing this, and Linda said I should ask her about it. I politely demurred and said I didn’t want to intrude on her time. But almost as soon as I’d said it, an elderly man got in her way and buttonholed her. “I’ve been wanting to talk to you,” he announced without preamble. “I have a theory about the origin of religion that I think you should talk about more often. Have you heard of hypnosis—?”

“I’m sorry,” she interrupted, “but I’m very busy” – which was absolutely true, and a lot politer than I would have been under the circumstances – and made a quick exit.

“You see,” I said, “that’s why I didn’t want to go up and talk to her – because I didn’t want to be that guy.”

Atheist men, here’s my message to you: Don’t be that guy.

Being a rude, conversation-dominating boor is bad enough in any context, but in a sexual context, demonstrating your own lack of concern for others’ desires is especially intimidating and frightening. There are plenty of ways to flirt, banter and chat that are friendly and non-threatening. (I did get to speak to Annie Laurie later in the conference, during a book signing when she was standing around and chatting with convention-goers.) But following women around, cornering them in private, or continuing to bother them when they’re with a group that you’re not part of, or after they’ve clearly expressed disinterest – we ought to know better than to do things like this, and I’m dismayed and angry that so many atheists apparently still don’t.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Andrew A.

    As Science Blogs uses OpenID logins, and Richard Dawkin’s login was from his own site, it seems too likely it was actually him. It’s very disappointing to see him say those things.

    I’m also disappointed at my own preconceptions after reading some of “What do you do to avoid sexual harassment.”

  • jemand

    it’s astonishing how many people seem to think that because some other human somewhere else has invented a worse thing to do than that thing they just did, and they wouldn’t do THAT, then they must necessarily be a decent human being.

    Simply because they weren’t the worst person they could think of.

    And that, somehow, these people think they then deserve a pat on the back and kudos for not being the most objectionable kind of asshole on the planet?

    Sorry, I have higher standards than that. If you’re bringing the conversation around to the Nazis, you’re probably a religious asshole trying to distract me from the assholery YOU’RE engaging in by waving something worse in front of me trying to get me to bite. If you’re bringing the conversation around to clitoridectomies in a discussion of western sexism on the blog circuit, you probably are an atheist asshole trying to distract me from your assholery by doing the exact same thing.

    nah, but thanks for playing.

  • jemand

    As for whether or not it was Richard Dawkins himself, given what happened during the debacle of the forums, it COULD be he’s trusting someone he has no business trusting with his internet presence again.

  • Kaelik

    This entire post is completely off track. You make a big deal about how women feel like the have to defend themselves. You talk about how we shouldn’t tell women to get over it and stop whining about how they feel offended, because it will cause them to leave.

    That’s exactly what accommodationists say about gnu atheists dealing with religious people.

    That’s completely wrong. It doesn’t matter if women think the public space is dominated by men any more than it matters that conservatives think that the public space is dominated by liberals.

    Wither women are actually persecuted with actual actions, or they have a persecution complex. It doesn’t matter if they feel persecuted or not.

    Statements like “It does us no good whatsoever to say, “You’re wrong to take offense at this, so you should just overlook it.” That won’t get them to drop their objection; it will just make them stop showing up. Worse, it will only cement women’s impression of atheist men as a bunch of rude, clueless know-it-alls who don’t care about the effect of their behavior on others.”

    Are fucking identical to accomodationist arguments.

    I also think it’s rather stupid to use an example that wasn’t in a sexual context at all. Because That Guy was not doing anything in a sexual context.

    The reason we should condemn the original guy is not because Rebecca Watson felt anything. It’s because cornering someone in an elevator is an aggressive action. Cornering people in elevators is bad because cornering people in elevators is bad, not because any time a woman feels bad, that counts.

    If a large black man corners me in an elevator, I can be upset at that man. But if a large black man crosses by me on the street, and I feel menaced by his presence, and am worried that if I don’t manage the threat he represents to me, that’s just me being a racist dick. If I say “I always scan the train carriage and try to sit with whites.” that’s just me being a racist dick.

    Yes, the problem is that women are actually statistically more likely to be the victim of sexual harassment, and even sexual assault from a man than a woman. But I’m also more likely to be mugged by a black man than a white one. That doesn’t make reflexive fear of all black men justified.

    Cornering people in an elevator is bad, and should be discouraged, but please try to pretend to be rational and discourage it for the right reasons, instead of just making blanket statements about how every time a woman feels offended it is justified because well, she’s a woman, and we should never tell a woman she should not be offended, because then they’ll stop being atheists.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Just as a technical note, the turquoise key icon on the Pharyngula comments indicates a Movable Type sign-in. That doesn’t need any special verification – you can create a commenting account with nothing more than an e-mail, and specify anything you want to show as your name and webpage. So it’s entirely possible that those comments weren’t really written by Richard Dawkins, but PZ is really the only one who’s in a position to know for sure.

  • Discoverer

    It bothers me that such simple concepts as basic politeness even need to be pointed out. Am I a weird type of person who could no more aggressively hop up from my table and accost a clearly-busy person who was passing by than I could hop up onto my table and start shouting about how great my pepper cheese omelets always turn out?

    It’s too horrific to even contemplate. (mix whole milk into the eggs, and use chedderjack — don’t forget plenty of butter, and to use a silicon-based non-stick pan rather than Teflon)

    And the fact that we still have to advocate for feminism, makes me the saddest of all. I’m startled and then fume when I even encounter the ‘mildest’ of such disgusting viewpoints. Anybody familiar with the kind of “we don’t want girls in our clubhouse”, or “that’s for boys”, mentality that sits, almost innocently, even in recent fictions? (books or TV, e.g.) You know the concept of ‘growing up fast’? Well I still remember my innocence first starting to crack when I would encounter those kinds of things, and gape at them in horror. These people clearly didn’t know girls like my sisters, mother, grandmothers, etc. What the hell?

    It baffles, sickens, and angers me to this day. (apparently…)

    But all the more because, he cried, so many be piggishly blind to it.

  • jemand

    Kaelik is actually right in an important way, women feel threatened in public spaces or certain groups because body language, relative body positioning, facial postures, microexpressions, verbal expressions, etc. are used in a way that *is* threatening. It’s not women just making it up, and it’s not just that women’s feelings of intimidation and offense need to be taken seriously because they are feelings of intimidation and offense….

    But that the actions that cause those feelings really are almost universally either 1) purposely or actively threatening and aggressive in an objective way to obtain a particular response from a woman, or 2) oblivious and unexamined behavior in the context of the realities of the wider sexist society which will reasonably come across as threatening or aggressive to it’s target.

    Women don’t make this stuff up, they may be more fully aware of their own feelings than the individual details of each of the thousands of small actions that give them a bad “vibe” in a given place or of a particular person, but all those little actions are almost always real (especially if many women are saying the same thing) and there really is threatening, aggressive, and objectionable behavior behind it, even if each individual act is only just a *little* bit threatening.

  • Penguin_Factory

    This entire post is completely off track. You make a big deal about how women feel like the have to defend themselves. You talk about how we shouldn’t tell women to get over it and stop whining about how they feel offended, because it will cause them to leave.
    That’s exactly what accommodationists say about gnu atheists dealing with religious people.

    Accomodationists: “Stop criticizing religion, it will just drive religious people away!”

    Ebon: “Don’t do things that creep women out, it will scare them away!”

    I don’t see how those two are remotely similar. The accommodationists want us to stop voicing our opinions, Ebon is trying to get people not to act a certain way around women.

    Also, the implication of your post seems to be that you think we should tell women to get over it and stop whining. Why?

    That’s completely wrong. It doesn’t matter if women think the public space is dominated by men any more than it matters that conservatives think that the public space is dominated by liberals.

    Except the public space is dominated by men. Read the study Ebon linked to, or just think about the situation for a minute.

    I also think it’s rather stupid to use an example that wasn’t in a sexual context at all. Because That Guy was not doing anything in a sexual context.

    He asked her to come back to his room with him. His intentions might have been entirely chaste, but surely you can see why Rebecca Watson would have interpreted it differently.

    The reason we should condemn the original guy is not because Rebecca Watson felt anything. It’s because cornering someone in an elevator is an aggressive action. Cornering people in elevators is bad because cornering people in elevators is bad, not because any time a woman feels bad, that counts.

    If the incident hadn’t made Rebecca feel the way it did, why would anyone have any grounds to complain? Nobody would have been wronged.

    If a large black man corners me in an elevator, I can be upset at that man. But if a large black man crosses by me on the street, and I feel menaced by his presence, and am worried that if I don’t manage the threat he represents to me, that’s just me being a racist dick. If I say “I always scan the train carriage and try to sit with whites.” that’s just me being a racist dick.

    Neither of those two situations are in any way comparable to the first, and they have nothing to do with what happened to Rebecca.

  • Demonhype

    That attitude from RD (or whoever is posting in his name) is no different from someone who is 250-300 lbs. pointing to someone who is 350-400 lbs or more and saying “well, I’m not as fat as that, so it’s totally good and healthy for me to eat supersized double quarter pounder McMeals as much as I like. Because I’m not ‘really’ overweight if there is anyone heavier than I am.”

    @Discoverer:

    Yes, that “that’s for the boys” crap is one of the reasons people think I’m a lesbian. I’m a bit psychologically androgynous but I lean heavily toward the male–despite that I’m completely straight. And there can be just as many lesbians who are completely feminine in ways I just don’t care to be. But people have this idea that a girl who isn’t feminine as prescribed is “obviously” a lesbian and any girl who is properly feminine is “obviously” straight. And that, I feel, ties in with that garbage attitude that women “owe” it to all men to be “hawt” and if you are “hawt” you “owe” it to men to be open to any and all of their advances–and if you don’t feel the need to cater to the eternal thirteen-year-old boys’-clubber inside the male ego by making “hawtness” your second full-time job (ie: if you have more important things to do than titillate the males, as if that’s even possible/SARCASM), you must be gay, because we all know that man-pleasin’ is the Primary Function of all Female Units.

    I also love the “well, we’re men, we’re crude, we can’t help it, just deal with it”. Okay, I can deal with the fact that you are going to be appreciative of a pretty girl and you’ll probably subtly be looking at any who walk by, even if you’re with me. But this “I can’t help it that there are low standards for my behavior and absurdly high standards for your everything, that’s just because I’m just not as mature and wonderful as you ladies, so just let me get away with my bad behavior” to excuse inexcusable behavior just smacks of my mom being conned into making all my dad’s and brother’s sandwiches because “you’re so much better at it than I am, honey”.

    I still have arguments with her and the gender roles she had ingrained into her in the fifties and sixties, such as her insistence that women “aren’t visually aroused” because we’re just “so much more spiritual and higher minded”, but it’s okay for men to judge you first and foremost–if not solely–for looks alone. I told her that even if she is not visually aroused I am most certainly visually aroused, and I know many other women who are, and that she had been conned into accepting the role of Man Pleasing Visual Masturbatory Aid by a lot of disingenuously-flattering grade A baloney. She then said that even if women are visually aroused, it’s not “important” if a woman gets aroused–that only a man’s arousal counts because he can’t do it unless he “gets hard”. Okay, so according to her, she, I, my sister, and every other woman are nothing more than Barbie dolls expected to stare numbly at a ceiling for whoever convinces us of his “glorious inner beauty” by presenting us with the nicest flowers, sweetest words, or largest shiny pebble (whatever’s your poison–who said women don’t have options?/SARCASM). She also thinks any girl who asks a guy out is a “man-chasing whore” and that any such relationship is doomed from the start unless the man is the one pursuing the woman for his reasons and based entirely on his decision and his interests and his attraction–apparently if a relationship starts with the woman’s interest, it’s worthless.

    And this is a woman who horrified everyone in the sixties by not getting married until 28, defying tradition by moving to the Big City and holding a real career–not just a placeholder job prior to an inevitable marriage–and would shred any man to bits if he so much as laid a hand on her much less tried to control her options or even tried to order her dinner for her. And yet, despite all her amazing unprecedented independence and personal pride in the face of her family and society, even she has some rigid ‘this is for boys and this is for girls’ BS ingrained in her brain.

    However, even she would admit that cornering a woman to proposition her, alone, in an elevator, at any time but especially at 4 am, is completely and totally out-of-line. For those who think it’s fine and a-okay, you’ve got the same kind of invisible privilege that white people have over black people. I used to argue against all sorts of “hypersensitivity” from the African-American community until I really took a good look at how different the world is from the eyes of someone who is not white (the book “Black Like Me” helped a lot, though I had to fight the urge to justify my invisible privilege by saying “well, that was then and it’s not like that anymore” because a little honest look at reality will end that train of thought.) Even in the cases where I might think a black person is being hypersensitive I at least realize that it is a reaction to a life experience I have not had to deal with and I can be more understanding. That person deals with challenges, biases and threats that I will never quite understand.

    For those who would like to get a handle on their sex-based privilege, I suggest you google Schrodinger’s Rapist, which gives a pretty good account of at least one kind of threat women have to deal with everyday that you do not. Here’s a quick related suggestion: Try to imagine what the world would be like if you had to worry, all the time, that you were going to be raped and had to make every effort not to appear too attractive or sound too inviting or friendly, had to take roundabout routes to avoid being in areas that invite attack, etc–and not just to avoid being sexually assaulted, but also to avoid being accused of “inviting it” and being a whore if you do have to bring a rape case to court. It’s just like in that page cited by Ebonmuse, wherein women had all sorts of things they do on a daily basis to avoid sexual assault and men just don’t even think about it.

    If it were a perfect world and women didn’t have to live with threatening and highly likely potentialities every day, as well as an inherently perceived societal inferiority, you might have a point. Until then, you don’t.

  • Demonhype

    Also, the thinking is inverted and if you’re not one of “those” men you should consider this: if women have to be over-sensitive to these things, it is because of your brethren in genitalia and not because they are just “hysterical women”, and you need to attack “those” guys and not attacking women who have been driven into a need to protect themselves. Just as if a liberal Christian does not want to be associated with fundamentalist evil and bigotry against, say, atheists or gays, that liberal Christian needs to be attacking the fundamentalists and not the atheists or gays who are defending themselves from deplorable attacks from said fundies in that “but not all Christians are like that and you atheists/gays are just being too sensitive and whiny” way they sometimes have. Telling a victimized class that they are out of line for trying to defend themselves from a very demonstrated threat in society rather than attacking the source of that threat (and taking an honest and humble look inside to see if you might be unconsciously harboring any enabling factors) is counterproductive at best and at worst makes you sound like you are defending the victimizer–that you might, in fact, be one of those victimizers.

  • Sarah Jane Braasch-Joy

    I am so bloody sick and tired of that “American women should stop whining about their petty and trivial grievances, because other women in the world have it so much worse” tired and asinine meme.

    First of all, when you fight for women’s rights as universal human rights anywhere in the world, you are fighting for the rights of women everywhere in the world.

    Second of all, whomever that commenter was, he should try growing up as a girl amongst the Jehovah’s Witnesses or the Mormons or the Quiverfull or the Southern Baptists, etc., etc., before he starts making sweeping pronouncements about how wonderful women’s lives are in the US.

    Additionally, I have never seen as many attacks on the humanity and citizenship of women in the US in my lifetime as I am currently witnessing in the form of brazen anti-abortion legislation and the recent SC rulings indicating that women are not recognized as having full access to their personhood by the US Constitution.

    This is why we so desperately need to ratify the ERA (which was just introduced in Congress again), and ratify CEDAW.

    Finally, as a woman, I can tell you that dealing with sexual aggression and harassment in the public space is anything but a trivial or petty grievance. I have to constantly be cognizant of the degree of threat inherent to any one or another proposition.

    But, it isn’t going to stop me from living my life openly and freely.

    Sometimes I just feel like wearing a t-shirt that says, “No. I’m not interested. Leave me alone.”

    And, the constant harassment is indicative of a sense of superiority and ownership, on the part of the men who do the harassing.

    The guy at the street booth whom I pass each morning on my way to class who always calls out hello to me and tells me I’m beautiful — no threat. He’s just being friendly and paying me a compliment.

    The guy in my living accommodations who is constantly in my personal space and is always “accidentally” brushing up against me — definite threat.

    I listen to my instincts. If I am feeling uncomfortable, I do something about it, and I say something about it, and if I made a mistake and hurt someone’s feelings, that’s just too bad.

    My personal safety is more important than hurt feelings.

    Just because someone in Sierra Leone is being held down and having her clit cut out right now doesn’t mean that I don’t have the right to tell a man that his behavior is making me uncomfortable and that he needs to back the F off.

    Otherwise, we get into the situation where we have a self-fulfilling prophecy — men harass and threaten women in the public space, so women need to retreat from the public space or be protected from men in the public space by men who threaten and harass women in the public space.

    It is the circular reasoning ad infinitum that has been used from time immemorial to justify the second class citizenship and sub-human status of women.

    We have to break the cycle.

    Men have a role to play in this effort, just as women do. We all do. As human beings. Let’s recognize the humanity of each other as human beings, regardless of gender or gender identity.

    Let’s break the cycle together.

  • Sarah Jane Braasch-Joy

    And, I’m so sick and tired of the “Oh, you must think you’re so hot, if you’re constantly getting harassed. Who do you think you are? You think all men want you. Stuck up bitch.” retort to any woman who complains about sexual harassment.

    This is yet another tactic of debasement and dehumanization — to make women feel like they don’t have the right to demand their right to personhood and autonomy and bodily integrity.

    All women get harassed. A recent report on the rampant sexual harassment on Egypt’s streets by an Egyptian Women’s Rights Organization found that women in burqa/niqab/chador/abaya/hijab were harassed just as much if not more than women in “Western” style dress.

  • Sarah Jane Braasch-Joy

    Think about it:

    Why do we always frame this argument as “A woman who tells a guy, whom she regarded as threatening, to back the F off is being overly sensitive,” instead of “A man, who gets told to back the F off, after propositioning some woman on the street, and proceeds to call her a stuck up bitch, is being overly sensitive.”

    ???

  • http://teaspoonactivist.tumblr.com hourlily

    I remember the incident you’re talking about, Ebon. The elderly man clearly expected Annie Laurie to drop what she was doing and hang on his every word. It didn’t occur to him that she might be busy or not interested. She handled it very well, but the story is a good example of the sense of entitlement among some men in the atheist community.

  • http://daylightatheism.org J. James

    Elevators are already creepy enough. You’re in a cramped, claustrophobic, germy little box and worst of all you’re stuck in there with whoever is in there with you. I can see why women would be scared. But it’s just absurd to me that this creeper’s ill-thought-out and awkward attempt at a pick-up should reflect poorly on Atheist gentlemen such as myself that wouldn’t even imagine putting a woman in such an awkward situation. What are we, his keeper? An atheist can be a total dick too, you know. Why on earth should we have to take responsibility for every jerk who happens to be able to see that religion is a blindly obvious crock? Congratulations, what do you want, a cookie? Atheists are among the most loosely affiliated groups in existence. So I think that anyone, man, woman, who gives a shit- who has their opinion of us colored by one jerk doesn’t deserve to be in our ranks anyway.

    And Kaelik, I find that skinheads are way more scary than large black men. At least you know THEY’RE evil.

  • jemand

    @J. James, it’s the fact that a LOT of men in the atheist movement seem to think that there was nothing objectionable in that behavior and say other such shit, that makes women who are thinking about coming to atheist events nervous.

    It’s like the catholic church and child rape. It’s not JUST the individual assholes who do it, but the other people who provide cover/excuses/do nothing about it.

  • Rollingforest

    I would be need more evidence on the Richard Dawkins comment before declaring that it was the Oxford Professor. It is common for people to pretend to be famous people on comment boards in order to get more attention. I’ll leave it up to PZ to find out the truth if he is so inclined.

    I won’t comment on RebeccaWatsongate since I’m just hearing about this and it sounds like there has been a lot of words back and forth and discussions about who should have said what. Rather than comment on a specific case, I will comment on the issue of the article, which is unwanted social advances, sexual or otherwise.

    Men, in general, have stronger libidos than women do so it is the women who usually receive the most unwanted sexual advances. But it is much easier for men (or others) to control their libidos than it is for the women (or others) to deal with constant unwanted sexual advances, so it is up to everyone to make sure they do not create discomfort.

    It is sometimes hard to tell exactly whether something will be welcomed or whether it will create discomfort. Not everyone is going to agree on whether a specific event was acceptable and those who declare that is was obviously offensive or obviously acceptable have often decided which side they will be on before they even hear the facts.

    It is true, as Kaelik hints at, that if a single person is offended it does not mean that the entire community has to change to accommodate them. However, I think most people, when presented with the situation, would agree that there are many many cases in our society of women being overly pressured about sex, far more cases than men deal with.

    So how to know what to do? Sometimes society has specific unwritten rules to help out. For example, in Iraq it is acceptable to be within one foot of someone while talking to them, whereas in America three feet is the acceptable distance. But the best rule of thumb is to ask yourself whether an average person (Not you. An average person without your specific background), if put in this situation on a regular basis, would feel uncomfortable. If so, then you should avoid doing it to them.

  • Sarah Jane Braasch-Joy

    Is there some way that we can in fact confirm the identity of that commenter?

    Because I’ll be incredibly disappointed if it was actually Richard Dawkins.

  • Kaelik

    @Penguin

    “Accomodationists: “Stop criticizing religion, it will just drive religious people away!”
    Ebon: “Don’t do things that creep women out, it will scare them away!”
    I don’t see how those two are remotely similar. The accommodationists want us to stop voicing our opinions, Ebon is trying to get people not to act a certain way around women.”

    No, what Ebon actually said, that I quoted, was that men should stop telling women that they are hysterical women, because it will just drive them away from the atheism movement.

    What I said, is that the truth is more important than “what drives people away from atheism” and that’s precisely what makes me a gnu.

    The reason we should not tell women they are hysterical is because we actually believe they are not hysterical, not because we are compromising truth to make them feel better.

    But see the bottom, where I address someone else’s statement.

    “Also, the implication of your post seems to be that you think we should tell women to get over it and stop whining. Why?”

    Because you are illiterate?

    “Except the public space is dominated by men. Read the study Ebon linked to, or just think about the situation for a minute.”

    The “study” Ebon linked to is an article that is mostly focused on a game, and points to one, not study but almost maybe a study in about one paragraph. I did however, read it, which you would know if you had read both it and my post, since I specifically referenced statements made in the article.

    “He asked her to come back to his room with him. His intentions might have been entirely chaste, but surely you can see why Rebecca Watson would have interpreted it differently.”

    Please learn to read, That Guy was a man who shouted at Anna Laurie, and wanted her to listen to his argument about the origin of religion. I can hardly think of anything less sexual that could occur at an atheist conference. He was a boorish dick, but in this case, a non sexual one.

    “If the incident hadn’t made Rebecca feel the way it did, why would anyone have any grounds to complain? Nobody would have been wronged.”

    The issue is that just because X feels threatened is not justification for anything, it is only when X justifiably feels threatened.

    “Neither of those two situations are in any way comparable to the first, and they have nothing to do with what happened to Rebecca.”

    But they do have to do with the article that Ebon linked, as women specifically said they try to sit with only women on subways, and the article summarized that women where treating the public sphere as a place with “threats” (which happen to be every man they don’t know, and some they do) that need to be managed. And so if I treated the public space as a place with “threats” (which happen to be every black man I don’t know, and some I do) that would be fucked the hell up.

    @jemand

    NO, Bad Jemand.

    “But that the actions that cause those feelings really are almost universally either 1) purposely or actively threatening and aggressive in an objective way to obtain a particular response from a woman, or 2) oblivious and unexamined behavior in the context of the realities of the wider sexist society which will reasonably come across as threatening or aggressive to it’s target.”

    Actually there is a 3) Women do get upset about things that are not actually threatening (or misogynistic).

    First you have to admit that this is an event that actually occurs before I can have any reasonable conversation with you. Clearly, this case was 1). Clearly, that random crazy guy who yelled at Anna Laurie was crazy, and while it wasn’t threatening exactly, his particular abrasive brand of crazy may in fact have been grounded in sexism, and we can argue about that. But you must admit that there are examples of women being to borrow the most offensive term possible “hysterical women” about something, before a real conversation can be had. Men are often wrong about things. So are women. This is a fact.

    “Women don’t make this stuff up, they may be more fully aware of their own feelings than the individual details of each of the thousands of small actions that give them a bad “vibe” in a given place or of a particular person, but all those little actions are almost always real (especially if many women are saying the same thing) and there really is threatening, aggressive, and objectionable behavior behind it, even if each individual act is only just a *little* bit threatening.”

    Nope. This is wrong. Women are not 100% always right about their threat evaluations. They are wrong about this, it does in fact happen, and while chances are that any given time they are wrong we never hear about it, it is inevitable that at some point we hear of such an issue, so we should focus on first determining whether a particular issue is valid, instead of just assuming that women use their magical intuition to always be right.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    You make a big deal about how women feel like the have to defend themselves. You talk about how we shouldn’t tell women to get over it and stop whining about how they feel offended, because it will cause them to leave.

    That’s exactly what accommodationists say about gnu atheists dealing with religious people.

    Yes, it is. The difference is that, counter to what the accommodationists seem to think, we’re not primarily interested in making friends with religious people. Our primary goal is telling the truth about religion, and if that ruffles some feathers, so be it.

    However, I’d think that we are interested in having women join the secular community and be part of this movement. It makes the atheist critique more effective, both in terms of sheer numbers and also because it broadens our appeal to show that it includes people from all walks of life.

    If we’re turning away religious people, who didn’t agree with our goals in the first place, good; that probably means we’re doing something right. If we’re turning away nonreligious women, who do agree with our goals but don’t want to tolerate sexism as the price of being associated with us, that means we’re doing something wrong. See the difference?

  • AshtaraSilunar

    There was an old episode of JAG, “Defenseless”, that put it brilliantly. “Sir, when we leave this building tonight we’ll do it in very different ways. You’ll get in your car and drive off. I’ll walk out and pay attention to shadows and dark corners. My keys will be in my hand for quick access to my car and in case I need them as a weapon. I don’t give it a second thought because it’s standard operating procedure every time I leave every building. Women’s intuition isn’t a joke. It’s a matter of survival.”

    @Kaelik – true. I’m sure I have felt uneasy around people unjustifiably, and avoided them anyway. But if someone creeps me out, and ignores it when I indicate I’d rather not talk/date/whatever, I’m going to be unnerved, and I’m likely to avoid them in the future.

    I don’t have a problem with being found attractive, or being spoken to, or being approached. I have a problem when people ignore my wishes.

  • Kaelik

    Thank you for proving that you can’t read either Ebon, I love it when you do that because it’s more important to you to pretend to be right and talk about how we love women than to give in to the tyrannical asshole that is asking you to admit that Rebecca Watson was right.

    Seriously, our commitment should be to what is true, and so if Rebecca Watson was wrong about whether the guy was aggressive and threatening and a dick, we should in fact tell her that she is wrong. We should do that because we should care more about what is true, than trying to keep women in our groups.

    But heaven forbid Ebon submit to the tyranny of agreeing that we should support Rebecca Watson because she was correct, that would be a fucking travesty, it’s better to say “Fuck Facts! I only care about making women like me!”

  • Sarah Jane Braasch-Joy

    I just want to point out that the Model Penal Code defines assault separately from battery.

    Assault can be placing someone in fear of imminent bodily harm. You do not have to touch the person.

    So, the fact that a woman feels threatened is material.

    It doesn’t matter if the person perpetrating the assault intends to place the victim in fear of imminent bodily harm.

    The perpetrator can do this purposely, knowingly, recklessly, and negligently. This is mens rea. (Mental intent)

    If the perpetrator commits assault even only negligently, this can be a criminal act.

    When negligence or recklessness is gross, it can rise to the level of criminality.

    Women are constantly being sexually assaulted and placed in fear of being raped or just being the victims of sexual battery in the public space of the US, and not just recklessly or negligently.

    But, because of the enormity of the problem, we do nothing about it.

    It’s almost like it’s so big, that no one knows where to start, so no one does anything.

    Just like federal hate crime legislation. (Which I am actually opposed to, but that’s a different point.)

    Gender is included in the federal hate crime statute.

    But, when was the last time you heard of someone employing a misogynistic epithet, raping a woman, and being prosecuted for a hate crime?

    Yeah, me neither.

    And, I’m not going to hold my breath waiting either.

    They would have to prosecute pretty much every rape as a hate crime.

  • Sarah Jane Braasch-Joy

    BTW, battery is touching someone against their will, period. It doesn’t have to be skin on skin. There can be an intermediary object or substance.

    In a way that the victim finds offensive. The victim. Not the perpetrator.

    Again, it doesn’t have to be intentional (purposely). Negligence and recklessness can rise to the level of criminality.

    And, it doesn’t have to cause injury.

    Generally, de minimis harm — truly accidentally brushing up against someone, say, in a crowded subway car, is not criminal.

  • Sarah Jane Braasch-Joy

    Something else to think about when wondering why all of those American feminists are whining about their apparently, according to the commenter who may or may not be Richard Dawkins, wonderful and easygoing lives:

    Violence against women in the US is an abomination.

    The most dangerous thing a woman does in her life is enter into a romantic/sexual relationship with a man.

    There’s a reason why the police always start investigating the husband/boyfriend/lover when a woman is murdered.

    Because, in something like over 90% of cases, he did it.

    If a woman is murdered, around 90% of the time, it was her significant other who perpetrated the crime.

    There’s a fact for you.

    But, I guess we don’t get to complain about that, because someone is having her clit cut out in Sierra Leone.

  • http://daylightatheism.org J. James

    @jemand That is so bad an example I hardly even know where to begin. Atheists are not trying to hide a thing here, in fact most of us, myself included, are pretty pissed off about it. And I get that it’s not just the event itself, it’s people’s reactions to it. But aside from “”"”Richard Dawkins,”"”"” I haven’t seen anything even approaching lukewarm support for the guy from the upper echelon. Unlike the Catholic Church. PZ, Adam, etc. all have been pretty damn quick about it even though it was relatively minor. Unlike the Catholic Church, who need I remind everyone SUPPORTS AND PROTECTS THOSE THAT RAPE CHILDREN OVER AND OVER AND OVER AGAIN!! How has this been anything at all like what the Catholics do? Sure, it’s a mean thing to downplay what pressures women have to deal with, it’s downright crummy. But what if she was raped, like what those scum do on a regular basis? What then? Would we all be blamed? Or would anyone dare to say it was HER fucking FAULT, like the Catholic Church does?! No! No! No. No one would blame her, no one would say it was her fault and he was victimized by her instead of the other way around. We would be horrified, and rightly so.

    So don’t you dare compare atheists to the Catholic Church ever again. I don’t think I’ve been so insulted in years.

  • Patrick

    Sarah Jane Braasch-Joy: Negligence is still evaluated by a reasonable person standard which focuses on the behavior of the alleged offender, independent of the opinions of the alleged victim, except where those opinions are known to the offender or otherwise likely to change how a reasonable person would behave around the alleged victim.

    You really can’t escape evaluation by a neutral third party in either legal or moral disputes.

  • Sarah Jane Braasch-Joy

    The reasonable person standard is only in civil cases.

    I am referring to criminal negligence.

    But, yes, of course, these things are decided upon an ad hoc basis in a court of law, not on an atheism website, if they are prosecuted.

  • Sarah Jane Braasch-Joy

    And, I am referring specifically to the crime of assault, as defined by the Model Penal Code. State criminal statutes differ widely across the US.

  • http://kagerato.net kagerato

    So, Kaelik, which incorrect, hysterical women are being supported by Ebon (and presumably others)?

    The storm of comments generated (many hostile, many supportive, and many others vacuous) by Watson’s suggestion that maybe strangers ought not to approach a woman at 4 AM in an elevator amazed me. That’s merely obvious, isn’t it? Common sense. I suspect someone was very drunk or pulling a prank, to be honest.

    Some people are also angry with Watson that she chose to specifically and publicly call out in a real-life speech someone who had criticized her on the internet. There is a question as to whether the audience understood the proper context of what she said, and a problem with criticizing someone sitting right in the audience from a podium while giving them no meaningful chance to respond. However, all of that is very much independent of the elevator incident.

    The whole matter with “Dawkins” shows the significance of the difficulty of identifying people on the internet. All the more-so with these casual blog communities where the authentication mechanism is extremely loose. The easy ability to impersonate also gives plausible deniability for individuals to test the waters with controversial or ridiculous comments, and helps to breed sock puppets.

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Sharmin

    For the record, when Rebecca Watson did a talk at Skepticon about feminism, she did give examples of what goes on in other countries, and in Islam, so I don’t know why “Richard Dawkins”/perhaps not really Richard Dawkins (whoever he is) wrote a comment that’s basically accusing her of not caring about the treatment of other women. It’s just horrible.

    I’ve gotten extremely tired of people who don’t actually care about the discrimination in Islam, but who will intentionally pretend to care whenever they themselves are criticized. It reminds me of conservative Christian politicians who discriminate against LGBT people, but then when they are criticized, they talk about LGBT pepole in Islamic countries, pretending to be concerned about them. It’s not because they actually care; they just want to avoid answering for their own actions. Whenever there’s an action or issue on which they agree with Islam, they even cite the fact that Islam and other religions also have some ideas similar to their own to argue that their attempts to put religion in the law are not really favoring Christianity since other religions also agree with them (e.g. claiming that every religion only allows heterosexual marriage, claiming that women submitting to men is agreed to by other and is therefore natural).

    I wish more people actually cared about discrimination, instead of just trying to manipulate the conversation so that only discrimination in other countries and religions is talked about, while their own country or religion gets a pass.

    -Ani Sharmin

  • Patrick

    Sarah Jane Braasch-Joy:

    Is this no longer the model penal code provision on the definition of negligence?

    “A person acts negligently with respect to a material element of an offense when he SHOULD BE AWARE of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the material element exists or will result from his conduct. The risk must be of such a nature and degree that the actor’s failure to perceive it, considering the nature and purpose of his conduct and the circumstances known to him, involves a gross deviation from the standard of care that a REASONABLE PERSON would observe in the actor’s situation.”

    Capitalization added. That’s from the “General requirements of culpability” “culpability defined” “negligently” section. I’ve capitalized sections which refer to an independent standard of conduct such as a reasonable person standard.

    Negligence is not, and has not ever been to my knowledge, a strict liability concept. As far as I know, it always includes an objective evaluation of conduct in some form.

  • Sarah Jane Braasch-Joy

    Patrick,

    I’m not interested in playing your game.

    I never suggested that criminal negligence is a strict liability concept.

    You can stop twisting my words. Thanks.

    I said exactly what you have quoted above — that negligence, when gross, can rise to the level of criminality.

    I also said that criminal negligence does not require that one perpetrate a crime intentionally (purposely). You can unintentionally provoke fear of imminent bodily harm in another person, but you should have known that you would have provoked such fear. And, that degree of negligence can be gross.

    Yes, in civil cases, the standard is what a reasonable person would do.

    So, yes, I guess if criminal negligence is a GROSS deviation from what a reasonable person would do, that, technically, a determination of criminal negligence relies upon the reasonable person standard, but only in contrast.

    Are you happy now?

    Are you satisfied?

    Or do you want to keep arguing with me for argument’s sake, which is not the point of the thread?

    I’m done with you.

    Have a good night.

  • Sarah Jane Braasch-Joy

    kagerato and sharmin,

    I couldn’t agree more with both of you.

  • Sarah Jane Braasch-Joy

    Also,

    There is both an actus reus component of a crime and a mens rea component of a crime.

    The actual provoking of fear of imminent bodily harm in another person is a part of the actus reus (act) component of the crime of assault while the gross negligence is part of the mens rea (mental intent) component.

    Mens rea is a required element of every crime. But that says nothing about what the other elements of the crime are.

  • Glenn

    I’m glad to see active atheists aren’t immune to the illogical, reactionary brand of feminism. I feel sorry for the guy, even if he was a bit tactless.

    The reactions by everyone against him are pretty close to sexism: ‘women have every right to assume you’re a monster, so please don’t engage them in private conversation. If you want to ask for coffee (or sex), you shouldn’t. It’s not your place.’

    It seems to boil down to a big gamble if you want to proposition someone and you aren’t very good at it (and you’re a guy). You get interest or you get to be publicly derided as the image of sexism in the atheist movement.

    I guess we hadnt wanted to be a big tent movement after all. Unattractive guys with no flirting skills need not apply.

  • http://www.WorldOfPrime.com Yahzi

    It seems to me the crux of the argument is over Rebecca’s feelings. Nobody disagrees the guy was a loser, or that Rebecca had a right to annoyed/amused/mercilessly mocking. But did she have a right to be afraid?

    On the one hand, yes, because women on our planet are statistically justified in being afraid.

    On the other hand, no, because it makes it really hard on guys, especially low-status insecure males searching for a mate. Think about the situation from the perspective of an animal and you can see the biological substrate that underlies his actions.

    Imagine that the elevator had been under active surveillance by a security guard at the front desk. Does this change how you feel about the incident? It does for me, because it removes the fear component and only leaves the dickwad component. Everyone has a right not to be afraid, but we all have to live with dickwads (of course, we have the right to mock them for their dickwaddery in return).

    So we need to create a society in which women do not feel constant fear. That means a society in which people are held accountable for their actions. This is one of the reasons I keep coming back to universal surveillance of public places as a public good.

    As for women’s concerns about sexual predation, I would add men actually have a context to understand it in. Rather than a low level of constant fear, for men it is an acute level of occasional fear. Resorting to implicit or even express threats of violence is an ordinary interaction between two men. Men who are afraid of being hit will suffer at every interaction with other men. I literally cannot count the number of times I have had to resolve a situation by saying, “Yes, I have a black belt, so if you want to fight, we can.” It is noteworthy that none of those interactions are ever with women.

    This is not to say that the situations are equal or that anybody is wrong to complain about them. It is simply to say that, to a surprising degree, our society still tolerates violence as a conflict-resolution method for everything from buying soft drinks to negotiating for sex, and if we want to change that, we have a lot of work to do.

  • Mrnaglfar

    The man who propositioned Rebecca Watson, whatever his individual intentions, can’t be separated from this societal background. Maybe he was just too shy to approach her in public; maybe his intentions were entirely innocent. But that doesn’t matter.

    I have to disagree very strongly here, Ebon. You’re flat out saying that “it doesn’t matter what actually happened, all that matters is the woman’s interpretation of it.”

    I largely agree with Kaelik’s assessment here; feeling threatened or offended does not imply an actual threat or offense.

    For instance, were I to say I find the atheist community sexist against men, because of posts like these, I don’t think anyone here would show much sympathy to my interpretation of events. You don’t get to say “the only thing that matters is one’s interpretation of events, not the reality [when you're a woman]“, then turn around and say, “Your interpretation can be ignored, because it doesn’t match up reality [when you're a man or a turncoat woman on the men's side].”

    Whether I hold such a view is deeply irrelevant to the main point, which is – again – that a feeling of something is no guarantee that something exists. It may not even be a good indicator at all. It may be accurate some of the time, and those “some of the times” are likely very important. Let’s just not get carried away and say that feeling something justifies what that feeling refers to. Everyone would rather have a smoke alarm that protects them from a real fire even if it goes off when there’s no fire, but no one wants to deal with a smoke alarm that goes off at the slightest provocation.

    Her feelings that the guy in the elevator was making a sexual advance were inferred; her feelings that the guy was “dismissing [my] person’s feelings, desires, and identity, with a complete disinterest in how [his] actions will affect [me]” were inferred; her feelings that the guy had even heard her say “I’m tired” appear to be inferred, though I can’t be certain on that point – she says he was “present”, which could mean a lot of things; there’s probably a lot more to that list, but no need to go over every possible inference. Some of those inferences may have been correct, others may not be.

    What does seem clear is that she was – seemingly, unless I’m wildly off-base here – perfectly willing to make all numbers of assumptions about a person who, according to her, she had never talked to or met, even in passing, before. People appear willing to lap up that interpretation as well, knowing nothing about the event in question.

    Of course, unwanted attention of any kind is rather annoying, sexual or otherwise. What might be a more productive discussion to have – instead of the “stop giving people unwanted attention discussion because it’s unwanted” one – would be how can someone tell, before they interact with someone, whether attention will be welcomed in the first place? This goes for men and women interacting with either men or women.

  • Dichard Rawkins (CSN)

    Could that have been more obviously not Dawkins? I have never heard him take anything remotely close to that tone. Even suspecting that it could be him does him a disservice.

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Sharmin

    @Demonhype (comment #9):

    I also love the “well, we’re men, we’re crude, we can’t help it, just deal with it”. Okay, I can deal with the fact that you are going to be appreciative of a pretty girl and you’ll probably subtly be looking at any who walk by, even if you’re with me. But this “I can’t help it that there are low standards for my behavior and absurdly high standards for your everything, that’s just because I’m just not as mature and wonderful as you ladies, so just let me get away with my bad behavior” to excuse inexcusable behavior just smacks of my mom being conned into making all my dad’s and brother’s sandwiches because “you’re so much better at it than I am, honey”.

    This always annoys me, too. I can’t count the number of times when “you’re a girl” or “he’s a boy” has been said to me because I complained that my brother and I were being treated differently in certain ways.

    Also, the mentions of “hysterical” women amaze me, because Rebecca Watson wasn’t being hysterical at all. She was really calm and mentioned this incident briefly in a video that contained many other topics. It wasn’t as though she was yelling and screaming, or claiming that she knew he was a rapist, etc.

    -Ani Sharmin

  • Sarah Jane Braasch-Joy

    (What follows is for the purposes of discussing the issue of sexual harassment in the public space and is not intended to cast aspersions upon anyone or to intimate that what anyone may or may not have done is or is not criminal in nature.)

    The crux of the matter is actually not Rebecca’s response — we can safely assume that she was afraid.

    Let’s assume that Rebecca was afraid that this guy was going to hurt her. Especially if she refused his request.

    That satisfies the act component of the crime of assault. (rough approximation for the purposes of argument)

    Then, the crux of the matter becomes — what was this guy’s intent?

    And, if he neither purposely nor knowingly provoked fear of harm in Rebecca, then does what he allegedly did (getting into the elevator at 4 am when she was alone and requesting that she come to his room after she had made her intent to return to her own room and go to sleep after hours in his company, in the midst of others) rise to the level of criminal recklessness or negligence?

    Should he have known that he would provoke such fear by his actions?

    And, would you consider that gross negligence, or even criminal recklessness?

    That would be a question for a court to decide, if this were prosecuted.

    But, it is not necessary that he intended to scare her purposely or that he knew he would scare her for his actions to have been grossly negligent or criminally reckless.

  • Jormungundr

    So women feel scared and on alert for violence from men on a level that exceeds men’s alertness for violence. Does this reflect a reasonable concern for safety and a reasonable level of situation awareness? Or is it paranoia? I live in southern California. There are some regions in my city in which many Hispanics live. Statistically speaking, they are far, far more likely to commit assault against me or kill me than white strangers are. Does that make it justified for me to be on a special level of alter when traveling through such parts of town? The way this is described, it seems that womens’ alertness for attacks by men is directly equivalent to some petty racists thoughts of ‘Oh shit, brown people, better get away from them before they beat me up and take my cell phone’. If women constantly fear male sexual assault in public, that seems functionally identical to a racist constantly fearing that the darkies will attack him in public.
    This really does not seem reasonable to me. The elevator guy was a creep, but I don’t think that it is reasonable for women to be on a constant lookout for the evil menfolk trying to get them.

    Comment #21′s JAG quote describes basic situational awareness. Everyone should be acting at the level at all times. I’m that way when I walk to my car and I do not expect to ever be attacked. I also get my keys out so that I can rapidly enter my car. I also look around to make sure I understand who is in sight. I’m not foolish enough to think that keys are a viable weapon, but I have an actual weapon on me at all times and am ready to draw if necessary. Whoever wrote that script doesn’t seem to understand that men need situational awareness too. I highly advocate that everyone take a concealed carry course and learn about how you should always be alert.

  • Sarah Jane Braasch-Joy

    Or, as Patrick would like me to state it:

    Was this guy’s behavior a gross deviation from what a reasonable person would do?

    The crux of the matter is about his behavior, not Rebecca’s feelings.

    Patrick is correct about this. I think we were just misinterpreting one another’s comments.

  • Sarah Jane Braasch-Joy

    But, it is not necessary that he either intended or knew that he would scare her.

    And, of course, even if an act (coupled with intent) is not criminal, people can be compensated in civil court for harms.

    Including slander and libel, which is why I am making it clear that nothing I have typed in this thread is intended to imply that anyone may or may not have done anything that is or is not criminal in nature.

  • Alex Weaver

    This is advice I originally formulated for family members on unrelated topics, but it seems relevant here:

    “If it seems like someone is much more upset than the situation, as you understand it, would justify, at least consider that there might be more to the situation than you realize.”

    That said, I agree with Adam generally, but the tack these discussions tend to take often leaves me feeling alarmed and alienated from a disability-rights perspective. Neurotypical privilege is a motherfucker, and unfortunately, the idea that such exists isn’t even on most people’s radars. I’m not sure what to suggest at this point, though…

  • http://betterthanesdras.wordpress.com Abbie

    If that quote is indeed by Dawkins, I have lost an immeasurable amount of respect for him.

    #43- What are you getting at?

  • http://betterthanesdras.wordpress.com Abbie
  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    Abbie,

    That comment was only meant to prove that it was possible to fake a comment using that system. The comment explicitly says that this isn’t proof that it wasn’t really Richard Dawkins who made the comment.

  • Charles Black

    Not the sort of story I wanted to read. Yes I think what that man did in the elevator was really brainless at best & harassment at worst.
    It pains me to have to remind people that you don’t go up to people in an elevator in the early hours of the morning and ask a stranger into his/her room.

  • Sarah Jane Braasch-Joy

    Abbie,

    I’ve been trying to point out a few things. In a purely hypothetical context.

    One — that women have undeterred sexual assault crimes perpetrated upon them constantly. And that they are prosecuted about as often as gender based hate crimes, which means not at all.

    Two — that the focus on Rebecca’s feelings and whether or not her response was appropriate is the wrong question, legally speaking — the right question is the perpetrator’s intent (purposely, knowingly, recklessly, or negligently). If Rebecca, or any other woman, was fearful of imminent, serious bodily harm, that’s all that matters. The law doesn’t ask if she had a right to be fearful.

    Three — even if the alleged, hypothetical perpetrator neither intended (purposely) nor knew that he would provoke fear of bodily harm in Rebecca, or any other woman in any other hypothetical situation, his actions could still be criminal — either criminally reckless or criminally negligent.

    Of course — we are only discussing a hypothetical situation, and I am not implying anything about actual persons.

    And, finally — like Patrick said — the lesson in this is:

    Don’t deviate from what a reasonable person would do, at least not in a grossly deviant manner.

    So, ask yourself, would a reasonable person corner a woman alone in a hotel elevator at 4 am and ask her to his room?

    If not, would you consider that behavior to be grossly deviant?

  • http://indiscriminatedust.blogspot.com Philboyd

    @Mrnaglfar (#37)

    You’re presenting a false dichotomy: the choice isn’t simply between ‘focus on the man’s intention’ and ‘focus on how the woman perceived it’. Intention aside, propositioning a woman in an elevator is a sleazy dick move. Can we agree that, as presumably rational and ethical people, we shouldn’t be making sleazy dick moves, and that when someone does so we should call them out for it? Frankly I’m not sure what you’re getting at here; making this issue into one that applies equally to men and woman ignores and trivializes the enormous reality of sexism in Western society (including the atheist community).

    On a more positive note: Ebonmuse, thank you for speaking out.

  • jemand

    (I’m leaving the other replies to me alone because I believe I made myself sufficiently clear the first time and don’t want to rehash the same ground over and over again anymore)

    @Alex Weaver

    I’m not really convinced that more of this type of threatening or clueless behavior really comes from people with atypical neurological functioning which would reasonably color their understanding and responses to society, rather than usually coming from men who are neurologically normal, understand society just fine, but simply *don’t care* about how they are coming across to women, because that’s not something that really matters to them.

    For my part, guys who interact with me in ways that seem to indicate a general social cluelessness but not coupled specifically with a dismissal of women’s feelings can get things “wrong” and be “annoying” but they aren’t scary, and they don’t threaten me, because the way in which they get things wrong isn’t explainable just by the hypothesis that they have less regard for women and haven’t considered things from a woman’s perspective (while showing an ability to consider a situation from the point of view of another man, or with an intense interest in that man’s motivations and inner mental life.)

    Of course, some people with social problems that CAN be explained by atypical neurological functioning, ALSO are sexists, and they can scare me just like any other guys… but it’s generally specific behavior in relating to women as less worthy of regard that does it, not general “social cluelessness.”

    Besides, neuruotypical privilege is not necessarily something women have over men in all cases, there are women out there operating under these kinds of differences as well, and navigating a world where most men they interact with have both their neurotypical AND male privilege on display.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Comment #36 is such a magnificent example of missing the point, I have to quote it:

    The reactions by everyone against him are pretty close to sexism: ‘women have every right to assume you’re a monster, so please don’t engage them in private conversation. If you want to ask for coffee (or sex), you shouldn’t. It’s not your place.’

    If someone says to you, “don’t corner a woman alone in an elevator at 4 AM and proposition her after she’s already announced that she’s going to bed” and you hear, “don’t ever flirt with or approach a woman under any circumstances,” then… how can I say this nicely? You are probably part of the problem. (And if you can’t see how those things are different, then yes, you should take it as a general rule not to talk to women.)

    The problem isn’t flirting (and I explicitly said this in my post: “There are plenty of ways to flirt, banter and chat that are friendly and non-threatening” – some people just can’t seem to comprehend that). The problem is the men who can’t see there are appropriate and inappropriate ways of starting up a conversation with someone. The problem is the men who think they’re entitled to a woman’s attention at any time, in any place, and in any manner in which they choose to approach her.

    That was true of the guy who cornered Rebecca Watson in the elevator; that was also true (though in a non-sexual context) of the guy in my post who buttonholed Annie Laurie Gaylor at the convention. There were dozens or hundreds of other men who interacted with both of these women at these respective get-togethers, and none of them, you’ll notice, are being chastised for doing so. The only thing we’re saying is that you shouldn’t act like that guy. Really, is this so difficult to understand?

  • Jay

    @Mrnaglfar #37:

    What Philboyd said.

    It sounds like you’re saying there is an objective truth of this event which is constituted wholly by the man’s (presumably pure) thoughts and intentions, and which is being obscured the woman’s “interpretation” of the situation. As though she is not a rational adult human being, entirely capable of forming an accurate impression of the appropriateness of a man’s advances. The idea that women (and their supporters) are cut off from truth and reality by the intensity of their feelings is a very old and thoroughly debunked argument, and you would do well to abandon it.

  • http://betterthanesdras.wordpress.com Abbie

    Oh my, I meant to write #45, and somehow I typoed in #43.

    #52 happens to clarify #45 for me.

    I hope it’s cleared up if Dawkins wrote those posts or not, because I need to know how much respect I need to lose towards him. I had misread the commentator saying “not actually RD” as admitting he was fake-RD all along.

  • Mrnaglfar

    @51 and 54

    What I’m saying – and I did say it twice – is that someone’s interpretation of events is not the sole criteria for judging that situation.

    Intention aside, propositioning a woman in an elevator is a sleazy dick move.Can we agree that, as presumably rational and ethical people, we shouldn’t be making sleazy dick moves, and that when someone does so we should call them out for it?

    We can agree that making “sleazy dick moves” in an unwanted fashion should be condemned. Apparently, we cannot agree in this case as to what constitutes a sleazy dick move. If that was a woman propositioning a man in an elevator, I feel confident in saying that not only would the night have played out differently, but everyone’s interpretation of it would be very different, both the people in the elevator and the people online, regardless of outcome.

    I also feel confident in saying that if they got on the elevator alone, he invited her back to his hotel room, and she decided to accept his offer, or at least wanted to accept but didn’t, the interpretation of this man’s behavior would not be “he’s a creep”, even if all the other events remained exactly the same. I could be totally off-base, I just get the feeling I’m not.

    It sounds like you’re saying there is an objective truth of this event which is constituted wholly by the man’s (presumably pure) thoughts and intentions, and which is being obscured the woman’s “interpretation” of the situation. As though she is not a rational adult human being, entirely capable of forming an accurate impression of the appropriateness of a man’s advances. The idea that women (and their supporters) are cut off from truth and reality by the intensity of their feelings is a very old and thoroughly debunked argument, and you would do well to abandon it.

    I find this argument very strange, because you seem to be arguing with points I didn’t make. As for the first point, I said before in this post, and I’ll say it again, that the “correct” interpretation of events is not wholly constituted by anyone’s interpretation, man or woman. We don’t even know what the man’s interpretation of the events were, so we can’t really comment on them. I also didn’t even come close to saying that this woman – or her supports – are incapable of forming accurate impressions. What I did say, and what we should all know, is that people are perfectly capable of forming incorrect impressions, to varying degrees.

    Although, it does function as a perfectly good example of what my point was in the first place: your interpretation of what my argument is and what I’m saying appears to differ in some big ways from what I intended my points to be and what I actually said. Your interpretation of what I said is colored by any number of factors, and as a result you seem to think I have said or think things I do not.

    All of which I happen to find terribly interesting.

  • Discoverer

    Ebonmuse wrote:
    Really, is this so difficult to understand?
    comment # 53

    Actually, there’s plenty of troubling evidence from neurology that different people might have different capabilities in these (or any) areas. Such as recognizing emotions purely from expressions. I think I could easily tell, if I was in the presence of a woman who suddenly no longer wanted to be around me, that she didn’t like my being there, and get the hint and feel too uncomfortable to stick around. But I don’t know if everyone can do that — and it may not just always be due to a life of unfortunate over-privilege (though of course, that would make it even worse). When I used to believe that the Christian god had something to do with people’s existence, I could feel safe in assuming that any kind of (e.g.) personality problems people exhibited were (and could only be) a direct result of their own life’s choices. But now, I have to wonder if things like whatever ‘empathy module’ we may have in our brains is susceptible to grades of development just like everything else in nature (else, what would natural selection have to work on?). I worry about this a lot, and I guess the only answers will come from the full maturing of neuroscience (go Sam Harris!).

    Demonhype wrote:
    Yes, that “that’s for the boys” crap is one of the reasons people think I’m a lesbian.
    comment #9

    What I love about this attitude that such horrible individuals could even dare give you (and, I assume, in public) is that they somehow think it’s supposed to be effective, or hurt our feelings. Don’t they know we don’t think there’s anything even the slightest bit wrong with our LGBT brothers and sisters?

    Congratulations, fellow free thinkers, we’ve managed to infiltrate an entire category of ‘insults’ into the opponent’s camp that has no effect upon us whatsoever!

    I would like to ask you, though, if you don’t mind, what your feeling is on the word ‘tomboy’. I had only ever heard it applied to characters or people whom I felt were admirable (a strong girl in a fantasy, e.g., saving the day rather than waiting, tremulously, in some castle for the Big Man™). But now I’m starting to wonder if its original intent wasn’t as some kind of invective — no matter how slight. How offensive does anyone think this term is?

  • jemand

    @Discoverer, I’m not Demonhype, but I’ll give you my perspective anyway :)

    The word “tomboy” bothers me partly because the current usage is so positive, it’s like, a good way to praise a woman is to tell her she’s really just like a man– implicitly hiding the core of an assumption that men are superior anyway, so to be like a man in that way is a high compliment! It’s taking something inherent about lots of women, their strength, their initiative, their determination and self-reliance, and labeling them as “male” traits worthy of praise even while underscoring how “out of place” they are in the given body/personality under consideration.

    It also fosters an “exceptionalism” narrative, where many people think they are “complimenting” a woman by stating something stereotypical in a negative light that “most women are” and then saying, “but you aren’t one of THEM!” It can gain value for one woman while additionally devaluing other types of women.

    But those are more general trends.

    I don’t find the word “tomboy” offensive per se, but I find it a marker of a problematic aspect of cultural attitudes in bulk. While I don’t mind it’s use terribly much, I prefer other words to describe a girl or woman’s strength and drive.

  • Alex Weaver

    I’m not really convinced that more of this type of threatening or clueless behavior really comes from people with atypical neurological functioning which would reasonably color their understanding and responses to society, rather than usually coming from men who are neurologically normal, understand society just fine, but simply *don’t care* about how they are coming across to women, because that’s not something that really matters to them.

    I agree, but the discussion frequently glosses over this and repeatedly conflates that sort of arrogant disregard with “social ineptitude” and “awkwardness,” hammers home that standards of appropriate behavior are supposed to be obvious to everyone, and occasionally descends to the level of suggesting that anyone who has difficulty with social interaction should just accept that their human need for socialization is going to go unfulfilled if that’s what it takes to avoid making people uncomfortable.

    A lot of it is “merely” kind of a “that’s mighty white of you” sort of thing, but most of the advice on how to behave appropriately in these situations is vague and constantly references intuition and kinds of awareness that people on the autism spectrum, in particular, don’t naturally have (it also tends to play into that absolutely maddening neurotypical tendency to respond to a question about how to do something right, socially, with a pep talk about why it’s important rather than actual practical advice). If you’re right, then it’s doubly useless: not only does it rarely provide better grounding for a large proportion of the people who struggle with social interaction, it’s likely to fall on deaf ears with the people who are the real problem.

  • Alex Weaver

    But now I’m starting to wonder if its original intent wasn’t as some kind of invective — no matter how slight. How offensive does anyone think this term is?

    It was, emphatically. I’m not thrilled about the etymology, but I’ve been assured by “reliable” sources that the etymology of a term is irrelevant in the face of its current usage and the connotations it currently has, and it’s a useful shorthand for a set of behaviors, attitudes, and outward affects that are not only a perfectly good variation of gender performance, but often immensely appealing to me personally in both friends and romantic partners. I would suggest that using it as a blanket term for assertiveness, courage, etc. is unjustifiable – I and most people understand it to refer to a girl or woman with more stereotypically “male” interests, behaviors, and personal style, and often a preference for the platonic company of boys or men (respectively).

  • http://superhappyjen.blogspot.com SuperHappyJen

    First, I’d like to see an official word from Dawkins’ website as to whether or not he actually made those comments.

    Second, what’s the deal with sexist atheists anyway? People who are completely intelligent and logical when discussing any other topic, suddenly turn into self-righteous cavemen when anything to do with women’s rights comes up.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    I wrote to PZ to ask if he can confirm whether those comments were actually written by Dawkins. If I hear anything, I’ll be sure to let everyone know.

    Also, given the apparent prevalence of clueless atheist men, I did give consideration to writing a short how-to post, something along the lines of “a basic guide to flirting without being creepy” – although PZ kind of beat me to the punch, and to be honest, my dating experience is limited. (I married the first person I ever seriously dated, and she was the one who asked me out!)

    Still, from Rebecca’s talk and from a similar post just written by Leah, there’s one tip that can be picked up: The content of the flirting, while not irrelevant, is often less important than the context in which it takes place. Even a perfectly innocent offer can seem seriously creepy if it occurs in an environment where the flirtee has no choice about interacting with you and/or can’t easily remove herself from the situation if she feels uncomfortable.

  • Sarah Jane Braasch-Joy

    I love, love, love PZ’s post. Genius. And, funny.

  • Brett

    Sarah’s comment (#25) is too ludicrous to go uncorrected.

    She claimed that 90% of murdered women are killed by their male romantic partner, and that “the most dangerous thing a woman does in her life is enter into a romantic/sexual relationship with a man.”

    No. More women are killed every year in car accidents, accidental poisonings, and falling, than from murder. Any murder. So your car is more likely to kill you than your romantic partner. Let’s have a little perspective, and a little less sexist nonsense.

    As for that 90% figure, looking at census data, men are far more likely to murder or be murdered. And looking at the age demographics and making some logical guesses, that 90% number is going to be hard to support. The National Organisation of Women says about a third, and I found another source saying 60%, but I don’t know where you got this ninety percent from. And given that women are less likely to be involved, for example, in gang warfare or drunken fights (contributing to the lower overall number), that would leave a much higher percentage of relationship-related murders. This isn’t, it should go without saying, to defend any of that of course, but be real.

    Anyway, I tend to agree with the posters who think this guy was just really socially inept. The equating of feeling uncomfortable with feeling physically threatened, is insanely unwarranted. And then the hypothetical criminal prosecution….good grief. That probably means I don’t agree with Rebecca’s angle on this either, and agree more with Stef McGraw (http://www.unifreethought.com/2011/06/fursdays-wif-stef-32.html). Rebecca’s ultimate comment on the matter (http://skepchick.org/2011/06/on-naming-names-at-the-cfi-student-leadership-conference/) calls out Stef for using “anti-woman rhetoric”, because she disagrees with Rebecca on the philosophical nuances of feminism. That kind of over-the-top accusation, combined with the known facts of this elevator incident really makes this look like quite a little molehill.

  • Sarah Jane Braasch-Joy

    Ebon,

    I love your comment #53.

    I think what it boils down to is this: If you are scaring women and making them afraid for their personal safety, and you are asking, “What’s her problem?” then you are asking the wrong question.

    Even the law doesn’t ask this question. (In the Model Penal Code)

    Maybe you need to ask yourself, “Should I be aware that my behavior is scary?”

    That’s the question that the law asks. (in the Model Penal Code’s definition of assault and criminal negligence, which is actually the law nowhere)

    The undeterred and omnipresent sexual harassment of women in the public space everywhere in the world is truly a customarily recognized form of gender punishment. It is a customary law to punish women for entering the public space and for engaging in public life. When government turns a knowing blind eye to massive crime, it is legitimizing and legalizing such crime.

    We have to work together, men and women, as human beings, to end these violations. We must recognize the humanity in one another, regardless of gender or gender identity.

  • Mrnaglfar

    Dress it up all you want, here’s the situation, as presented: a guy asks a woman back to his hotel room and she said no.

    Sure, this woman had to endure a grueling few seconds of awkwardness in the elevator. The guy probably experiences the same few grueling seconds out of feeling embarrassed about asking and getting rejected. However, there is absolutely no reason to assume this guy was aggressive or threatening: he didn’t touch her; he didn’t try to stop her from exiting; he didn’t follow her; he didn’t ask again or press the point; he didn’t insult her. He accepted her “no”.

    Her conclusion? The guy was sexually objectifying her.

    “[He was] dismissing [my] feelings, desires, and identity, with a complete disinterest in how [his] actions will affect [me]“

    That sounds like one hell of a leap to make. In fact, it sounds like she was judging the character of this person who – by her own account – she had never before met in passing, much less spoken to, just because she felt uncomfortable and they happened to be in an elevator.

    Does that strike anyone else as an extreme reaction?

  • Sarah Jane Braasch-Joy

    Mrnaglfar,

    You’re still asking the wrong question.

    This was in a comment on Jen McCreight’s blog —

    according to this, PZ has confirmed that those comments were indeed left by Richard Dawkins.

    I find that very sad.

    http://twitter.com/#!/pzmyers/status/87666607261884416

  • Sarah Jane Braasch-Joy

    It appears, from Jen’s blog and comments left by her and PZ that it was indeed Richard Dawkins.

    I am deeply saddened and disappointed that someone whom I had admired so much would say something so profoundly stupid and misogynistic.

    He should be ashamed of himself.

    He does a great disservice not just to those women in the US and the West struggling for their humanity, but to the very women around the world whom he regards as deserving of our sympathy.

    What a profound and disheartening shame.

  • Sarah Jane Braasch-Joy

    I can say — having worked with Muslim immigrant women in France (with Ni Putes Ni Soumises), and having worked with a human rights org in Rabat, Morocco, that Ni Putes Ni Soumises, which began in the ghettoized suburban housing projects surrounding the major cities of France, which are primarily comprised of Muslim immigrant communities, that Ni Putes Ni Soumises is thrilled that I am spreading their message of Secularism, Gender Equality, and Gender Desegregation throughout the US and the English-speaking world.

    They want desperately for me to begin a chapter in the US, because they understand how desperately this message is needing in the US, where we are losing our secular democracy. They understand that American women’s rights will go, if our secular democracy falters.

    So, apparently, those Muslim women around the world, whom RD regards as worthy of our efforts, understand what he does not.

    That the fight for women’s rights is a universal fight, and that American women are as deserving of their humanity as all women.

    If those Muslim women are trying to reach out to the US and the West to help Western women, then perhaps we should heed their call to action, even if RD thinks it’s completely unnecessary and nothing more than whining.

    NPNS is absolutely thrilled that I continue to vaunt their message in the US. They would love for me to open a branch here, and I maintain an English language NPNS page, which has grown tremendously popular and enjoys a global, multi-cultural and multi-lingual following.

    Sorry. I maybe shouldn’t have commented so soon after finding out. I’m quite upset.

  • Sarah Jane Braasch-Joy

    Also, I still suffer the ill effects of having been raised as a gender slave in a cult of demonology and female subjugation INSIDE THE US.

    But, I guess that’s just whining on my part.

    And, I know for a fact that there are millions more women, just like me, who are struggling for their humanity.

    INSIDE THE US.

    But, I guess we’re just a bunch of whiners.

    Because we still have our clits.

  • Sarah Jane Braasch-Joy

    I just want to thank Richard Dawkins for reducing my personal lifelong struggle for my humanity inside the US as nothing but a bunch of pathetic whining.

    It just motivates me.

    And, serves as yet another example that I made the right choice in coming back to the US, because I recognized that we are losing our secular democracy, and that women are losing their status as fully human human beings and first-class citizens of the United States of America.

  • Sarah Jane Braasch-Joy

    Loubna Al Hussein, the Muslim Sudanese journalist and former UN worker who risked being whipped for wearing pants in Khartoum, and I have personally discussed the challenges facing American women. She works closely with and supports the efforts of Ni Putes Ni Soumises.

    I met her in Paris, where she came to spread her message of women’s rights as universal human rights without compromise, which is also the NPNS message.

    She would love nothing more than to come to the US to continue her work on behalf of American women and women everywhere in the world.

    If she thinks that American women struggling for their humanity are worthy of our efforts, then I’m inclined to side with her, regardless of Richard Dawkins’ disdain for their plight.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    I’m incredibly disappointed to hear that those ignorant, crass and sexist comments really did come from Richard Dawkins. He’s said much more rational and sensible things about sexism in the past, and he should have known better than to so casually and arrogantly dismiss the concerns of Western feminists. Shame on him.

  • Sarah Jane Braasch-Joy

    Sihem Habchi, the President of Ni Putes Ni Soumises, with whom I worked closely during my time in Paris, has personally implored me to do what I can to help re-invigorate the feminist movement in the US.

    She can see what RD cannot — that the US is devolving into religious communitarianism by way of cultural relativism and obscurantism, and that no one will suffer more if we lose our secular democracy than women. And, she is an Algerian born and bred MUSLIM woman who has fought for women’s rights as universal human rights without compromise and secularism her entire life.

    She has visited the US multiple times, and she is dismayed at the lackluster, to say the least, state of feminism in the US. She always asked me, “Where are the feminists? Where are they? Why aren’t they responding? Why aren’t they in the streets?”

    She understands that we cannot relinquish any part of the world to misogyny. Not Saudi Arabia, not Turkey, not Tunisia, not Syria, not the Sudan, AND NOT THE US.

    Remarks and attitudes like those of Dawkins’ hurt women tremendously. They hurt the very women whom he claims he wishes to help.

    And, his attitude and remarks does nothing so much as embolden and give sustenance and support to the religionists in the US, particularly the Republican Christianists, who say the very same things to justify their anti-women legislation and agenda.

    Don’t worry. You live in the US. Turn away. Your life is great. You have nothing to complain about. Look at how bad the Muslim women have it. We even let you keep your clit and your driver’s license.

    So, don’t look while we implement laws that strip you of your humanity and citizenship.

    Thank you so much for letting me keep my clit.

    I guess RD is right. I have nothing to complain about.

    I should just be grateful that I still have my clit.

    I’m a woman after all. So how much more can I possibly expect out of life.

    What do I want? Full access to my humanity and citizenship?

    That’s just crazy, hysterical female talk.

  • Sarah Jane Braasch-Joy

    Diaryatou Bah is a beautiful MUSLIM women’s rights activist in Paris who was born in Guinea and who was an abused child bride whose genitals were mutilated (and she can no longer have children as a result). She works with Ni Putes Ni Soumises in Paris, and she has written a book about her ordeal called Someone Stole My Childhood.

    Diaryatou doesn’t have her clit. They took it away. And, they took her ability to ever be a mother with it.

    And, she still thinks American women are deserving of their humanity and our efforts.

    And, she still fights for women’s rights as universal human rights without compromise for ALL WOMEN EVERYWHERE IN THE WORLD.

    If NPNS only cared about Muslim women — they wouldn’t be opening up branches all over the world.

    They wouldn’t have worked so hard for ECOSOC status at the UN.

    They wouldn’t attend the annual women’s rights conference at the UN.

    They don’t just open up branches in the DRC. They open up branches in Sweden.

    If Muslim women think we need to fight for women’s rights in Sweden, and not just for immigrant women, but for all women, then so do I.

    You should be ashamed of yourself, Richard Dawkins.

    Shame on you.

  • Sarah Jane Braasch-Joy

    Some of the other amazing women’s rights activists at Ni Putes Ni Soumises include Wassila Ltaief, Djamila Abdi, Noemie Hazout, and Mariam Toure, who also happen to be Muslim women, born in Africa (both the Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa).

    They were just wondering, if they still have their clits, is it ok with Richard Dawkins, if they still fight for women’s rights as universal human rights without compromise?

    Or, is there some sort of suffering threshold that qualifies one to fight for one’s humanity? The humanity of others?

    What about Fanny Derenne? She works at NPNS too, but she’s white and French born and blond and not Muslim.

    She’s probably out, right? Nothing to complain about there.

    There are even, gasp, some men, both dark-skinned and light skinned, both French born and immigrant, both Muslim and not, men who work with Ni Putes Ni Soumises.

    Even they think American women are deserving of their humanity and our efforts.

    I just want to thank Richard Dawkins for letting me keep my clit.

  • Sarah Jane Braasch-Joy

    Maybe we should change the title of this post to:

    Atheists, Don’t Be Richard Dawkins.

  • Mrnaglfar

    Sarah, Ebon, before you pull out the “Dawkins was dismissing feminist concerns” card, consider the first line of his response:

    [Q]Did you just make the argument that, since worse things are happening somewhere else, we have no right to try to fix things closer to home?

    [A]No I wasn’t making that argument.

    Do you really need to imply that he was making that argument, the one he said he wasn’t making at all? It was the literally the first thing he said.

    The point was that this should be a non-issue. She said “no” and he accepted it. I feel like saying that again, because repetition is important; she said “no” and he accepted it.

  • Sarah Jane Braasch-Joy

    Richard Dawkins, even Muslim women think what you said is profoundly stupid and misogynistic.

    I think you should apologize.

    Even if you don’t want to apologize to American women, because they don’t deserve it, seeing as how they have nothing to complain about, the whiners, clits intact and all, then at least apologize to those Muslim women whom you claim are the only ones worthy of your sympathy.

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Sharmin

    It’s disappointing to hear that it really was Dawkins. It’s especially ironic, since Dawkins and other atheists are often wrongly accused of saying things they didn’t say, but then he turns around and falsely accuses Rebecca Watson and/or other women who talk about discrimination against women in the US of not caring about women in other countries or in Islam. If his comments were specifically targeted at those who do make excuses for sexism in Islam (e.g. the “it’s their culture” argument), I might be more understanding, but the fact that it was in response to someone who (as mentioned above) has shown concern for women in Islam, just makes me furious.

    @Sarah: The organization you sometimes mention NPNS has caught my interest, and I wanted to thank you for making me aware of it. And, for what it’s worth, whenever someone mentions how easy women have it in the US, I often remember some of the things you’ve written here, in entries and comments.

  • Sarah Jane Braasch-Joy

    Mrnaglfar,

    That’s just like the Christianists who say that they love the gays and all. They just don’t want them to have any rights.

    You can say you’re not saying what you’re saying all you like. It doesn’t mean you’re not saying it when you say it.

    I read his comments in their entirety.

    I feel confident that I am not misinterpreting him.

    Not only were his comments explicit, but they were utterly dripping with disdain.

  • Sarah Jane Braasch-Joy

    Thanks, Sharmin.

    That makes me happy. Maybe some good will come out of this, and it will help spread the Ni Putes Ni Soumises message.

    Sorry about the tirade.

    It’s just that comments like those do such damage to feminism in the US.

    We need help. We don’t need to be attacked by those whom we regarded as allies.

    I’m going to go away now and relax and calm down.

    I’ve said my peace.

  • Mrnaglfar

    Sarah, you know what was explicit to me? What he actually wrote, specifically in response to that concern: “No I wasn’t making that argument.”

    If you’re going to insist he was making that argument then I’m going to insist you’re making the argument that you think men should be inferior to women socially and legally.

  • Jormungundr

    @#74

    So, don’t look while we implement laws that strip you of your humanity and citizenship.

    You can’t possibly think that this is an accurate description of Republicans. You can’t be this irrational. I’ve seen you write non-crazy things in the past. Could we try to reduce the amount the hysterical lies and exaggerations while discussing this?
    This site is an odd thing. On many issues people are rational and have meaningful things to say. On gender issues it is a shitstorm from start to finish.

    Also, I would never have thought that Dawkins would write such things. From what I remember of “The God Delusion”, he just isn’t this way when writing for a book. This is a disturbing dark side that he chose to show us.

  • Kaelik

    Sarah. Stop that, it’s insane. Think for eight whole seconds before you post, collect all your thoughts, and don’t make 6 consecutive posts, followed by one post from someone else, followed by posting 4 more times, followed by being at the minimum every other post in the thread.

    Please stop, think, and stop posting multiple consecutive posts in a row all the time.

  • http://indiscriminatedust.blogspot.com Philboyd

    @ #83:
    Mrnaglfar, nobody is saying that the guy who propositioned her was malicious. Of course if it were a woman propositioning a guy the situation would be totally different. Why is that? Because women raping men is a couple of orders of magnitude less common than men raping women. Because men aren’t constantly bombarded with advice to avoid getting into an elevator with strange women, to avoid being alone at night with strange women, to at all costs avoid making strange women angry. Because men aren’t told that if they fail to follow this advice then any ensuing assault will be their fault.

    Given the cultural context, the onus is on men to be thoughtful and considerate when dealing with women in potentially threatening situations. This is called being aware of one’s privilege. Not doing so is rude and boorish, and the man in question was – briefly – called out for being rude and boorish. What’s the problem?

    As for the Richard Dawkins thing, it’s true that he denied he was making the only-the-worst-things-matter argument. The problem is that he’s either wrong or his original comment was an example of spectacularly bad communication. Whichever it is, it’s undeniable that none of the comments he’s made demonstrate an iota of empathy.

  • RiddleOfSteel

    I’m glad to see active atheists aren’t immune to the illogical, reactionary brand of feminism. I feel sorry for the guy, even if he was a bit tactless.

    Yeah, clearly the radar of this elevator guy was off. Now his ill advised come-on (yes I think it probably was about more than simply coffee), is getting plastered all over the web, and has become a kind of proxy for various other baggage, hence talk of legal liability, assault, criminality and the like – completely hypothetical of course;) It seems much more of a train wreck over on the PZ Myers threads.

    I don’t know enough atheists personally, and have never been to a conference of atheists, to know if misogyny is a general problem. But making an international incident of this elevator thing can end up making a mockery of a reasonable discussion into the matter.

  • Glenn

    I agree with 86, who agrees with my 36. I have to say – when I ventured into the realm of women’s studies at university – this kind of thing was commonplace and appears to be a problem for many feminists. When there is outrage over a minor thing (though Rebecca is quite muted in her initial post, I still think she overreacted, and her supporters here and elsewhere definitely have), this lessens the likelihood that the general populace will pay due regard to women’s issues (such as abortion rights which are under attack throughout the US).

    As an aside, I also have found that many feminists approach issues non-critically and treat everything as (almost deliberately conspiratorial) institutional discrimination against women… when the most logical explanation is much more nuanced.

    In short, elevator guy is no charming-guy-off-one-off-those-medical-shows, but he shouldn’t become a pariah or be held out as symptomatic of sexism within the atheist movement.

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    Sarah,

    “That’s the question that the law asks. (in the Model Penal Code’s definition of assault and criminal negligence, which is actually the law nowhere)”

    Unless I’m misreading you, since the MPC is in fact NOT the law anywhere we’ll thank you to stop using it as an example of what the law says or does.

  • Eurekus

    Just a comment to lighten the mood, after all, even though DA is stimulating, it can be like walking into a vortex of argument. I kind of feel good about RD’s comments. If a PHD like him says dumb stuff like this, then what hope do I have? LOL. I promise I will refrain though.

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    Ebonmuse,

    To get back to at least one of the starting points of this discussion, your personal example is bad because you wouldn’t have been that guy even if you’d spoken to her, because I presume the conversation would have gone something like this:

    “Hi, I’m Ebonmuse and my friend here was telling me that someone submitted one of my essays for one of your contests?”

    “Oh, so that was YOURS. Nice to meet you.”

    “I was wondering about the details of that. Want to join us?”

    “Sorry, I’m really busy right now. But maybe we’ll catch up later.”

    And it’s this sort of reaction — taking it back to the more sexual example — that is what men are complaining about when they say that it sounds like people are saying not to flirt or approach women at all. It isn’t always clear where that line is, and if you simply start talking about — as Rebecca Watson did — it being a problem that she was “sexualized”, then people are right to wonder what isn’t sexualizing. If asking politely and calmly accepting a rejection is somehow not respecting her autonomy, what the heck IS respecting her autonomy?

    If what you were likely to do would have ended up with you being “That Guy”, then the definition of “That Guy” would be so horribly misguided that no one should take it seriously. You can indeed be too polite.

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    Briefly, my comments on this issue:

    I can perfectly understand Rebecca Watson feeling uncomfortable about his approach in that situation and being nervous. It was an odd, awkward approach and an odd and awkward time that quite reasonably creeped her out a bit. Her emotions aren’t inappropriate in this case.

    That being said, a lot of her defenders are applying the same lack of empathy to him as the accuse the critics of applying to her. Essentially, all he did was make an awkward advance at a bad time. It’s quite likely that he didn’t think of it as being any sort of threat at all, and probably didn’t think of what time it was. From the comments, he seems to have been at least on the fringe of the discussion for most of the night — as otherwise there’d have been no reason to think that he heard her when she said that she was exhausted and going to bed — and was probably practicing the line most of the night, looking for a chance to make it. It is unlikely that he had any chance prior to this. As for doing it when he was alone with her, that does seem to be the way to make such approaches, and I know from experience how awkward it can be when you don’t.

    I submit that if he had done the exact same thing but had said instead “I find you really interesting. Do you want to meet up for coffee before the presentations start tomorrow?” there’d have been absolutely nothing wrong with what he did, looking at it reasonably, even if the elevator thing might have made her nervous.

    I also don’t see this as being an example of male privilege or sexualization or whatever. Attraction and approaches happen, and some are more awkward than others. And some colder/more awkward approaches even work. He screwed up, but screwed up in a way that you can understand if you look at the social dynamics of approaches. If all that had come out of this was a joking “Wait until you hear about the creepy experience I had last night!”, there wouldn’t be all this hubbub. But turning it into a statement on misogyny in the atheist movement and a potential explanation for why women aren’t atheists is really making a mountain out of a molehill.

  • elfstone

    The whole affair seems analogous to me with the condescending attitude of “don’t criticize religious beliefs, they are precious to some people”. Is this really how gender equality should be achieved, by pretending that women are too delicate and fragile to handle things like that? I’m amazed this has turned into some kind of PC problem for atheism. This must be the only disappointing post in Daylight Atheism from its very beginning.

  • Kogo

    I tried to make sense of the Watson blog post–all her references to videos, speeches, tweets, comments ON tweets, comments on comments of tweets–but it just seems garbled and gossipy: Like overhearing some very shallow person talking about themselves to a friend on the phone or in front of me in line at a cafe or something, “Then I said. Then she said. Then he said. OMG! Can you BELIEVE it?!?!?”

    In general, I can’t work up a lot of energy for Not really seeing the crushing injustice here. Seems like one person treated another person wrongly. Not seeing where this ties into the need for some gigantic community response.

    This is a very aggravating planet we’re on and while being buttonholed in an elevator is maybe problematic, insisting an entire social movement get in a dander about things said on fucking TWITTER is asking too much.

  • Jen Nichols

    The guys (yes, guys) on here trying to compare women’s fear of all men with their own hypothetical fear of all of one race just prove that they don’t get it, and that they are incapable of actually imagining what this world looks like from a woman’s perspective. We are not talking about being beat up or mugged; we are talking about being RAPED. We are talking about what it is like to live as a member of a species with penetrative sexual reproduction, wherein the penetrators are generally bigger, stronger, and more aggressive than the penetratees. That alone is enough to make being female a little nerve-wracking. Add to that things like rape culture (if you’re not savvy, look it up), institutionalized sexism and misogyny, victim-blaming, and willful obtuseness on the part of the guys I’m ranting about, and you’ve got a pretty solid basis for all this rampant “hysteria” on the part of women. It dismays me greatly to see these non-critically-thinking guys get defensive on behalf of their gender, and try to claim women’s fear of rape is a form of sexism against men, the way their own hypothetical fear of another skin color would be unfounded racism. These guys are simply incapable of actually putting themselves in women’s shoes and thinking about what daily life might feel like for females. Somehow they take women’s fear personally; probably because they are incapable of stepping outside their own experience. Furthermore, what right do they have to get so indignant about perceieved sexism against men? The only reason men go ballistic when confronted with misandry, even just perceived misandry, is that they’re so used to never having to deal with it. We women, it should be pointed out, deal with actual sexism EVERY DAY, and most of us don’t let it make us hate men. Personally, I think this is pretty generous of us.

  • Discoverer

    jemand wrote:
    It’s taking something inherent about lots of women, their strength, their initiative, their determination and self-reliance, and labeling them as “male” traits
    comment #58

    Jemand, thank you, that was a real light-bulb statement for me. How dare such inherent female traits have credit claimed by bigots — it wasn’t that women were acting like how men do, it was because they were living in such a repressed society that they were acting like how only men had been encouraged or allowed to do.

    Alex Weaver wrote:
    I would suggest that using it as a blanket term for assertiveness, courage, etc. is unjustifiable – I and most people understand it to refer to a girl or woman with more stereotypically “male” interests, behaviors, and personal style,
    comment #60

    Thank you, Alex, that sounds like a very useful distinction.

    “Richard” wrote:
    I am not exaggerating. He really did.

    Anyone but me shocked by the un-Oxford way in which this was put? Sounds like the kind of language a forum troll might use. “No srsly, it totaly happnd.” And what was the first reaction of any decent person who read this? Disbelief, I would hope. And that is significant to a rationalist, because once you realize “I notice that I am confused”, there’s a very good chance that “either your model is false, or this story is wrong.” Since this doesn’t seem like something we would have thought beforehand that Dawkins would say, there may be a very good reason for it, and thus we have a situation in which we can legitimately demand a very high quality of evidence.

    No offense to PZ’s tweet, but am I being unreasonable when I feel that the only possible evidence that would be good enough (for me) in a case like this would be a video of Dawkins himself admitting he had written it, and (this next bit is essential if what you thought you knew about the world was actually true) sincerely apologizing for the misunderstanding, as well as clearly and forcefully outlining his actual position?

    Assuming, wildly, that it really was he, I’m willing to be forgiving if he convincingly posits that, for example, he had sincerely misinterpreted the weight of the situation.

  • Brett

    We are talking about what it is like to live as a member of a species with penetrative sexual reproduction, wherein the penetrators are generally bigger, stronger, and more aggressive than the penetratees.

    What would you have us do about that?

    Somehow they take women’s fear personally….

    …most of us don’t let it make us hate men. Personally, I think this is pretty generous of us.

    I’m sure my instinctive response to this would be agsinst the comment policy, so instead I offer questions. Where do you live, and what is your fear of all men based on? Statistics? What statistics? In any case, thank you for your generosity. I want women to be treated equally across society, but being on the penetrating side of the species, I’m aware of my blood guilt and want to do what I can.

    What I’m learning from all this crap is that I should talk to women, especially atheist women, differently than I talk to men. And I don’t make sexist comments to men.