The Last Thing I’ll Ever Say About Elevatorgate

Or rather, the last thing I’ll quote, because there were two comments on Friendly Atheist that sum up the matter perfectly:

First:

Misogyny shows not because of a guy being unaware that the circumstances in which he is asking people out are creepy. But the misogyny shows when people quickly jump into trying to make it look like doing that is fine. The correct non-misogynist reaction to this is “oh, I didn’t stop to think about this before, but I think that you may be right and doing that is not a good idea. I will try to consider this before asking women in our community out”. Rather than “big deal! You are wrong, this does not matter. I am a man and I will ask you out in any situation I find convenient. All you can do about it is say no. The new information I just heard about that it may actually be uncomfortable for you is irrelevant to me.”

Second:

I don’t attend atheist conferences, because everything I’ve heard indicates that I can expect to be hit on by strangers all weekend, and that doesn’t sound like any fun at all to me.

I’m reading all these arguments full of men defending why it’s harmless for them to hit on women at conferences, and they apparently don’t understand why a woman might not want to spend her weekend that way.

So I stay home. Because that isn’t my idea of a good time. In fact, it sounds just awful.

Now, you’re a man. If men make unwanted passes at women all weekend, that doesn’t affect your ability to enjoy the conference at all. Unless, of course, you have any female friends whose good time you care about. Or unless it bothers you that these conferences will remain mostly male for the foreseeable future. But if neither of those things bother you, then you have luxury of not caring about the kind of experiences women have at atheist gatherings.

That must be nice. I don’t have that luxury. Since I’m female, I don’t get to decide that I don’t care about the kind of experiences women have at atheist gatherings.

But what I’ve learned from this ‘controversy’ is that, if I were to go to such a gathering, I’d be surrounded by mostly men, some of whom will make clumsy passes at me, and most of whom will think that’s okay, and if I even mention that this is unpleasant for me, I might become the target of a maelstrom of male anger.

If you’re trying to make atheism an all-male endeavor, you’re doing great.

And to forestall the inevitable onslaught of misunderstanding: No one whatsoever is saying that it’s wrong under all circumstances for a man to talk to a woman he doesn’t know. There are appropriate and inappropriate ways to hit on women. It’s not that hard to tell which is which. Make an effort to learn the difference. That’s what this is about; that’s all this has ever been about. And now, I think, it’s long past time to move on to other topics.

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.

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Sharmin

    Misogyny shows not because of a guy being unaware that the circumstances in which he is asking people out are creepy. But the misogyny shows when people quickly jump into trying to make it look like doing that is fine.

    This. Elevator Guy made a poor choice in judgement, but what really upset me was that the response was to make excuses for him, falsely accuse Rebecca Watson of overreacting, while simultaneously overreacting to her reaction, which was really calm and, I think, appropriate (based on the video).

    -Ani Sharmin

  • Vjatcheslav

    “some of whom will make clumsy passes at me”

    I wonder, is it only the clumsy passes or are the smooth passes also included in the discomfort? If the answer is no, remember that clumsiness comes before competence (and that refusing to see that is quite resembling to the ubiquitousness of job ads which demand experience – but how is one to get experience if he needs experience to enter?). Don’t put men in a catch 22.

    Anyway, men can’t read the minds of women. Some women want to be hit on, others don’t, some want to be hit on by certain men only. Unless a woman vocalises (or makes very, very, very clear by her actions – and don’t think that subtility is clear) in which category she is, men cannot know what’s the case without trying (the elevator case is, it seems, a case where the category was quite clear). Therefore I consider it quite narcissistic – even arrogant – to demand of men that they read your mind and just know in what category you are. When the activity is low-impact – asking out, for example – a weak presumption of openness is acceptable. When it is higher-impact (probably kissing, certainly sex), the presumption must turn around.

    And to finish: men need indeed to practice some situational awareness, even if they just want to find a lay. Asking someone out who clearly doesn’t want it, is just a waste of effort (it is also uncomfortable for that person); asking someone out when there isn’t some kind of safety valve (e.g. in an elevator where one is, after all, locked up) lessens comfort of the other person. But don’t forget that many men just don’t get much possibility to know what women think, want etc.; said otherwise, many (if not most) men are (when it comes to women) just some nearly untrained cannon meat, so don’t think they are all special ops guys. Demanding they are is unreasonable and impossible.

  • tellmetrue

    This is a really big row over nothing. All a person need do is practice good
    manners and everything else will fall in place. It is a common ‘problem’ for
    women to ‘solicit’ the ‘hit’ by the right party without giving the impression
    they are amenable to be hit on by others (those they don’t consider the right
    party). Good manners by all concerned will prevent any problems.

  • Mrnaglfar

    No one whatsoever is saying that it’s wrong under all circumstances for a man to talk to a woman he doesn’t know. There are appropriate and inappropriate ways to hit on women. It’s not that hard to tell which is which. Make an effort to learn the difference. That’s what this is about; that’s all this has ever been about.

    That’s odd because it seemed to be a whole lot more than that. It seemed to be that Watson and her supports were telling anyone who disagreed with their assessment they were misogynists and sexists who were excusing the actual nasty things that men do. Like you just did again.

    Just to even the playing field then, if atheists – men and women – can’t figure out why that’s a problem and refrain from doing it, I’ll refrain from attending any atheist conferences as well. If those are the type of people I’ll meet when I’m there, I want nothing to do with it.

    That second commenter, while she’ at it, will probably also want to avoid bars, clubs, buses, trains, parks, concerts, and really anywhere strange men are. Otherwise, the men might flirt with her.

  • http://politicalgames.posterous.com themann1086

    The response has been undeniably the worst part. Once again, Rebecca’s suggestion:

    Um, just a word to wise here, guys, uh, don’t do that. You know, I don’t really know how else to explain how this makes me incredibly uncomfortable, but I’ll just sort of lay it out that I was a single woman, you know, in a foreign country, at 4:00 am, in a hotel elevator, with you, just you, and—don’t invite me back to your hotel room right after I finish talking about how it creeps me out and makes me uncomfortable when men sexualize me in that manner.

    The response (hattip Pzed):

    The response has been to belittle her reasonable suggestion, belittle her, accuse her of hysteria, defend the rudeness of the fellow with the proposition, and mostly act as if utterly obtuse to both the unpleasantness of the elevator faux pas and to disrespect the rational concerns of women. Women aren’t so much afraid that unruly mobs of atheist men will rape them at meetings, but that they’ll be dolts who trivialize legitimate and common concerns of women…and this incident has definitely shown that to be the case. We aren’t just going to see Rebecca Watson diminished as an asset to atheism, but all the other women who seek common cause with atheism will watch how we treat our own and find this community significantly less attractive.

    This isn’t slightly bad. It’s very bad. Atheist men are alienating the people we want to work with us on the very same problems, the oppression of women under religious regimes, that you [Richard Dawkins] cited in your comment.

    Oh, and if I read one more “if women don’t want to experience [men bothering/harassing/assaulting them], they should avoid [public places]” comment, I will seriously lose it. Hint: the way to fix bad behavior isn’t to avoid the locations where it occurs; it’s to get people to stop behaving badly.

  • mikespeir

    I do hope it’s noted that some of us aren’t getting involved in this. ;-)

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Sharmin

    There’s a new entry over at Atheist Cartoons about this.
    http://www.atheistcartoons.com/?p=4508

  • http://sacredriver.org Ash Bowie

    Clearly this situation has unearthed a lot of unspoken tension between men and women in the larger atheist community. In cases like these, it isn’t uncommon for the extreme positions to be vocalized the most, forcing participants into camps. This is understandable but very undesirable.

    I imagine that the vast majority of atheist men are respectful of women and make appropriate advances when they do. I imagine that the majority of atheist women are at least tolerant of most male advances and don’t consider them misogynistic or asshatish. As Vjatcheslav mentioned above, there’s rarely a way for men to tell if a given woman wants or doesn’t want libidinous attention, so some advances will hit and some will miss.

    The elevator debacle is simply a good example of what not to do. Just cross it off your list of options…”Rule: don’t proposition an unfamiliar woman in a small inclosed space at 4am.” It is unreasonable to extrapolate from this either that men should stop all advances or that women should tolerate creepy come-ons. Women have every right to feel comfortable and safe at atheist gatherings, but they do not have the right to demand that men stop signaling interest in them. The answer is to keep talking about what works, what doesn’t, what is appropriate, and what isn’t. Men would be wise to listen.

  • Dani

    I don’t like to comment on these things because, frankly, people are often wrong on the internet and I don’t see it as my job to correct all of them. But this is something that consistently gets on my nerves.

    I’m a woman. I often get hit on by men. I’m married and find that sort of attention unwelcome. When I’m hit on by men (at school, at work, while walking around town, while out with friends, etc) I have the option of ignoring it, saying “No, thank you”, or getting upset because they don’t respect me as a human being and HOW DARE THEY find me attractive and say so. I usually choose to ignore it when they’re being idiots (really, what do you expect to accomplish from whistling at me as you’re driving past?) or politely refuse.

    And why wouldn’t a man hit on women at an atheist conference? It’s difficult finding an atheist in the real-world and it’s not fun to inquire about somebody’s religious beliefs on a first date (which I got to doing because I was sick and tired of getting involved with religious folks). That being said, cornering a woman in an elevator is not a particularly nice thing to do — I would also feel threatened and probably frightened — but I don’t see what that has to do with feminism or atheism. The fact that that action may make somebody uncomfortable is common sense, which most of the world (atheist or no) lacks.

    The feminist community should stop attacking men. Men are not the enemy and making them the enemy helps nothing. As atheists we should all agree that the enemy is the “tyranny of a dull mind” and that, my friends, is what we need to focus on defeating.

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

    Mrnaglfar,

    I can see her point, however. If she wants to go to an atheist event to listen to the speakers, but gets hit on a lot, then it isn’t fun because she wasn’t there to get picked up, but to do something else. It’ll be annoying. But that’s what happens whenever you have an event that’s male or female-dominated to the rare few who show up who aren’t of the majority gender. Because the sex/relationship drive is so strong, people do tend to automatically think in that way at least at times. In a more balanced grouping, it spreads itself out enough to not really be annoying, but when things are unbalanced the same people get hit on by pretty much everyone, leading to the “I’m not here to get picked up!” frustration since they’re spending far more time proportionately fending off advances, even polite ones.

    So I don’t think it’s as bad as you made it out to be, although I also don’t think any form of sexism is actually involved.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    It is unreasonable to extrapolate from this either that men should stop all advances or that women should tolerate creepy come-ons. Women have every right to feel comfortable and safe at atheist gatherings, but they do not have the right to demand that men stop signaling interest in them. The answer is to keep talking about what works, what doesn’t, what is appropriate, and what isn’t. Men would be wise to listen.

    I think that’s an extraordinarily sensible suggestion, Ash Bowie. It’s just unfortunate that so many men belong to the huffy, entitled “It’s my sacred right to hit on women in any time, place or manner I choose, damn it!” crowd. By contrast, I’ve seen no one even suggest that men should be forbidden to speak to women they don’t know, or that they’re guilty of sexism if they lack the ability to read minds (although my position has been repeatedly caricatured in this way).

    It’s a lot like free speech. It would be illegal to forbid people to advocate an idea under any circumstances, but it’s legal to put reasonable “time, place and manner” restrictions on how speech can be expressed. Similarly, you don’t have to be a mind-reader to make reasonable inferences about when a woman might or might not like to be approached. Nor should it be a burdensome request to take advice from women regarding which conversational methods might be welcomed, versus which ones are likely to get a poor response (since, after all, you’re presumably trying to approach them in the way that has the greatest chance of success). Inexplicably, some people seem to value their unrestricted right to engage a woman’s attention more highly than the actual response they hope to obtain in so doing.

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

    Ebonmuse,

    And if she’d just said something like “Making the potential love of your life uncomfortable isn’t the way to start a relationship”, I think none of this would have happened. But she tied it to sexism and sexualization, and that’s where people balked.

  • http://blog.oldnewatheist.com/ jim coufal

    There are just too many over generalizations and too many assertionsto make much of this conversation useful. Also, there seems to be an underlying notion that such unwelcome “hitting on” is common at atheist conventions. Is there proof of this beyond the anecdotal? Is it more common at atheist conventions than at other kinds of conventions?

  • Sarah Jane Braasch-Joy

    I have to admit — that I am strangely grateful for all of these shenanigans.

    It has forced me to re-analyze my position.

    I’m still processing, but . . .

    I am so shocked by the callous disregard for the personhood and autonomy of women expressed by the comments in these threads, and especially by Richard Dawkins’ comments regarding American women, that I am being forced to re-evaluate.

    I have always resisted the suggestion that the atheist community make special accommodations for women to make them feel welcome and safe.

    I have always averred that we should treat everyone equally, like human beings, with the dignity and respect that that status demands.

    I was wary of the suggestion of providing special accommodations, because, to me, that always stinks of paternalistic protections, which inherently imply a lesser status for women.

    But, what I am appreciating from this debacle is that many many men demand that that equal treatment towards all be on their terms and their terms alone.

    They just continue to beat the drum of “What’s her problem? I didn’t intend anything bad, as I see it, as I interpret it.”

    That is the wrong question. It is a negation of her fear. It is rejecting the reality of her fear. It is saying that she doesn’t have a right to be afraid. By rejecting the reality of her fear, these men (who are commenting) are rejecting her personhood, her control over her own body and choices and life. They are rejecting her autonomy.

    It is saying, “I don’t think you have any reason to be afraid, therefore, if you are afraid, then, OBVIOUSLY, you have a problem. Not me. OF COURSE, there is nothing wrong with my behavior.”

    Instead, they should be asking themselves, “Did I behave reasonably? Was my behavior grossly deviant? Or, just deviant? Should I have been aware that my behavior would have provoked fear of imminent bodily harm in this other person, regardless of gender?”

    This is what the definition of assault in the Model Penal Code demands. Regardless of gender. If you make someone afraid (of imminent serious bodily harm), the Code does not ask whether or not that person had a “right” to be afraid. They were afraid. Period. The Code asks whether the perpetrator should have been aware that he/she would provoke such fear by his/her behavior.

    I’ll explain briefly — the American Law Institute promulgates the Model Penal Code. It has been in existence for decades and is continuously revised. No, it is not the verbatim law in any state (states promulgate their own criminal codes), BUT it has been and continues to be hugely influential, and it is what all law students study, because of the huge variation in criminal codes across the US.

    And, according to the MPC’s definition of mental intent, it is not even necessary for the perpetrator to have intended (purposely) or to have known that his/her behavior would provoke such fear.

    It can still be criminal, if it was reckless or grossly negligent.

    That is the point I was trying to make with the legal exercise and bringing up the MPC.

    I’ll admit that I could have maybe pulled that off a bit more elegantly than perhaps I did.

    But, my point is that all of these male commenters are entirely missing the point.

    They should be asking themselves if they should have known that they would have provoked fear.

    Not, dismissing the fear of the other party all together.

    By dismissing the fear of the other party (and it doesn’t have to be a woman), and by immediately saying, “What’s your problem? What’s wrong with you? I reject your interpretation of these events. I reject your right to be afraid. I reject the reality of your fear,” they are not only dismissing the fear, they are dismissing the personhood, the autonomy, and the humanity of the other person.

    I am absolutely shocked by the sweeping dismissals expressed in the comments of many of the commenters.

    I was especially shocked to see such sweeping dismissals in Richard Dawkins’ comments.

    And, despite the fact that the other party doesn’t have to be a woman, I think the very fact that, in the discussed instance, the other party is a woman, is why the commenters feel so comfortable dismissing her fear.

    I have to go think about this.

    LIke I said, I am grateful for this, because it is forcing me to re-evaluate my position.

    This whole debacle has opened my eyes to something, which I could not or was reluctant to see before.

    I think we have a problem. A big problem.

    And, if we seriously want the atheist community to coalesce into a political movement, in particular, it must be addressed.

    Sorry for the length, but I just felt like I really needed to say that.

    I’m not really interested in engaging in anymore debate.

    Because, like I said, I have a lot to think about.

    But, feel free to comment. But, I think I have to go do something else now, something a little less toxic to brain for a while.

    Later.

  • Mrnaglfar

    It’s just unfortunate that so many men belong to the huffy, entitled “It’s my sacred right to hit on women in any time, place or manner I choose, damn it!”

    In public, talking to someone else actually is your right, at least here in the US. This isn’t a question of rights, however.

    By contrast, I’ve seen no one even suggest that men should be forbidden to speak to women they don’t know, or that they’re guilty of sexism if they lack the ability to read minds (although my position has been repeatedly caricatured in this way).

    Um, how about that first post you put up there:

    Misogyny shows not because of a guy being unaware that the circumstances in which he is asking people out are creepy. But the misogyny shows when people quickly jump into trying to make it look like doing that is fine.

    That’s a statement that anyone who thinks what the guy did was acceptable is a misogynist. What the guy did was make a polite invitation, which he wouldn’t have made if he knew he’d get a “No”, I’m sure.

    The ongoing assumption is that he should have known it was bad time and place for that particular woman. Since he didn’t, he’s apparently creepy, however unintentionally he was being creepy.

    But let’s find some other quotes:

    But when it comes to rooting out sexism in our own ranks, we have a long way left to go…but in a sexual context, demonstrating your own lack of concern for others’ desires is especially intimidating and frightening [sounds to me there you're assuming he should have known her desires or did already and didn't care]…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…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 men who can't read minds]…I’m incredibly disappointed to hear that those ignorant, crass and sexist comments really did come from Richard Dawkins.

    Nope; it’s absolutely beyond understanding why such comments could be caricatured as you saying people who disagreed were sexist. Of course, you should have known that such comments would have made people uncomfortable. Maybe you should display more awareness before you say things in the future.

    Similarly, you don’t have to be a mind-reader to make reasonable inferences about when a woman might or might not like to be approached.

    Actually, you do have to be a mind-reader; you need the ability to form correct inferences about someone’s underlying mental goings-on. Lacking that ability is why certain sections of the population (i.e. autistic individuals) have trouble with social interactions. It’s not as if everyone has that same ability and just choose not to use it.

  • bob

    I really cannot believe how ridiculous this situation has become.

    Being hit on in an elevator can be rude, impolite, and creepy. However, saying that it is somehow misogynistic or sexist, in and of itself, is ludicrous.

    Yes, what the guy did may have been creepy. It may even have made Watson uncomfortable. However, that should have been the end of it. She could have simply blogged about the creepy encounter, noting how rude the guy was. However, she blew it WAY out of proportion and tied it to misogyny, sexism, and feminism, making it some kind of personal crusade.

    She then took it a step further, proclaiming that anyone who disagreed with her was a misogynist. I hold such reasoning (or lack thereof) and behavior in contempt. It’s exactly the same as when a Fox News commentator declares anyone who disagrees with him/her unpatriotic, a “terror enabler,” etc.

    This is the danger of black and white thinking, and it can be found just as readily in feminists and politicians as in fire-and-brimstone evangelical preachers. Anyone who thinks differently from the group in question is instantly branded as evil/misogynistic/unpatriotic regardless of the reason or validity of the argument.

  • Lynet

    Rebecca’s initial comment was perfectly reasonable — friendly ‘please don’t do that’ comments are an important way for people to communicate what they’re comfortable with. I’m not sure if I’d go all the way to calling it ‘sexualization’ as she did, but that’s a nitpick. I still smile when I remember responding to a guy calling out to me from across the street one night by shouting back “It’s dark. Don’t yell strange things at strange women.” Because yeah. Some guys obviously don’t understand, and casual, free-form explanations like Rebecca’s can be a good way to get the message across.

    I also don’t think Stef’s response was all that bad, either, though. I mean, most of the time I’m a big fan of the ‘Go ahead and ask, but respect if I say no’ rule, at least as a baseline for the socially inept. Admittedly, as I did with Rebecca’s initial comments, I have small nitpicks — I wouldn’t agree that “Someone who truly abides by feminist principles would … have to react in the same manner were the [genders] reversed” for reasons beautifully outlined in the post here that Jen McCreight linked to. The implication that Rebecca might somehow not have the right to feel unsafe, and say so, is also very unfortunate. But I can’t believe how much this has blown up.

    I also can’t believe how many people are willing to say exactly that: that women shouldn’t be allowed to point out which situations feel unsafe, and ask that non-rapists avoid putting us in those situations so that we won’t have to face that awkward dilemma of wanting to react as defensively as possible while being aware that the person who has triggered this response is quite possibly merely oblivious to their implied threat.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Nope; it’s absolutely beyond understanding why such comments could be caricatured as you saying people who disagreed were sexist.

    Let’s be absolutely clear about a few things. As I said in my original post, I don’t know Elevator Guy’s intentions, nor do I particularly care:

    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.

    Even if he came off as a creep, that might have been entirely unintentional. Since we really can’t know who he was or what he had in mind, that’s an unfruitful line of inquiry.

    What I am saying is that people who have it explained to them, at length and repeatedly, why those specific actions in those specific circumstances might have made a woman uncomfortable, and who then continue to defend those actions under the theory that it doesn’t matter how the woman feels or that, if she was frightened or creeped out, she was wrong to feel that way: those people are sexists and misogynists. They’re asserting that a man’s right to approach and hit on women in any manner he chooses trumps a woman’s concern for her own comfort and safety, or in other words, that a man’s feelings and desires matter more than a woman’s. That’s as clear a definition of misogyny right there as I’d ever be able to offer.

  • Mrnaglfar

    if she was frightened or creeped out, she was wrong to feel that way: those people are sexists and misogynists.

    I’m going to have to disagree again, on the grounds that saying how one woman feels in one situation might have been disproportionate to any danger she was facing does not in any logical way imply one hates women in general or is a person with sexist attitudes.

    That aside, she can feel as threatened and creeped out as she wants when a man politely invites her to chat over coffee and then accepts her “no” as meaning “no”. However:

    They’re asserting that a man’s right to approach and hit on women in any manner he chooses trumps a woman’s concern for her own comfort and safety, or in other words, that a man’s feelings and desires matter more than a woman’s.

    Women don’t wear their comfort and safely levels on their sleeve, so you’re again asking men to either read their minds (you should have known my comfort levels before you talked to me) or refrain from talking to them altogether since they can never really know (and seem to be implying the woman’s feelings – even if not publicly known – should take priority in the situation). You’re not doing the latter, as you’ve said, so I can only assume you’re doing the former.

    From my (privileged, white, and male) perspective, a polite request for coffee and accepting the reply without further questioning is not a threatening behavior, even if it’s done in an elevator, even if it’s at four in the morning. Perhaps it’s a generally poorly timed move, but unless asking a woman to have coffee in an elevator is inappropriate at all hours of the day, it’s not threatening.

    Since women all have different comfort levels, let’s not pretend that actions like these are universality inappropriate, make all women feel a certain way, and one woman gets to speak for women everywhere; all that does is take a voice away from women who don’t agree. Some women might feel threatened or creeped out by simply being in an elevator – or anywhere alone – with a strange man, regardless of the time of day; that doesn’t mean men should know that and take caution to avoid her. Others women might even accept his offer, even at four in the morning; there might not be a lot of them, but that doesn’t effect the point any.

  • Snap

    I thought this community had decided that people DON’T have a right to not feel uncomfortable. Did I miss a memo? Are we now going to take down our billboards after all, since they make some people uncomfortable?

  • http://indiscriminatedust.blogspot.com Philboyd

    I think that the people arguing that this isn’t an issue of misogyny, sexism etc are being too reductive, imagining the elevator encounter as in a culture-less (and presumably frictionless) vacuum. In real life, however, sexism is apparent in damn near every conversation between men and women, regardless of whether the people in question are behaving in sexist ways or not. In real life, the spectre of sexual assault and rape haunts these interactions, especially for women.

    This is not an issue of ‘men are bad’ or ‘kill the sexists’; this is an issue of ‘let’s realise that everyone occasionally behaves in sexist ways and try to avoid that’. (And yeesh, the issue’s not Elevator Guy, it’s the folks coming out of the woodwork trying to argue that his boorishness had nothing to do with the cultural attitude towards women.)

  • Freak

    Anybody tried talking with people who’ve run other conventions about what problems they’ve had, what they’ve done about the problem, and how well those methods have worked?

    (Let’s hope things can be reversed before they’re as bad as the convention that gave attendants “No, you may not feel” buttons.)

  • Mrnaglfar

    I thought this community had decided that people DON’T have a right to not feel uncomfortable. Did I miss a memo? Are we now going to take down our billboards after all, since they make some people uncomfortable?

    You see, Snap, that “people don’t have a right not to feel uncomfortable” only applies to those outside the atheist community. Perish the thought that anyone entertain the possibly there are some in-group biases at play here. That’s just silly…

    In real life, the spectre of sexual assault and rape haunts these interactions, especially for women.

    There it is again; that slippery slope that goes from “he made a polite invitation” (it wasn’t boorish, by any means, even if ill timed) to “he could have been a rapist”. I’ll do you one better:

    If a man was going to sexually assault a woman, he doesn’t need to be polite and invite her to coffee; he could have attacked her right in the elevator without so much as a word to her. Elevators, as we know, are nearly impossible to escape from. Therefore, women should feel uncomfortable alone in an elevator with a man. Because he could rape her. Further, men should know this, and because some women will feel uncomfortable at the thought it’s clear to see how inappropriate it is for a man to think his right to get on an elevator trumps a woman’s right to not feel uncomfortable.

  • http://www.theelectoralcollegestudent.blogspot.com/ Teleprompter

    There it is again; that slippery slope that goes from “he made a polite invitation” (it wasn’t boorish, by any means, even if ill timed) to “he could have been a rapist”. I’ll do you one better:

    If a man was going to sexually assault a woman, he doesn’t need to be polite and invite her to coffee; he could have attacked her right in the elevator without so much as a word to her. Elevators, as we know, are nearly impossible to escape from. Therefore, women should feel uncomfortable alone in an elevator with a man. Because he could rape her. Further, men should know this, and because some women will feel uncomfortable at the thought it’s clear to see how inappropriate it is for a man to think his right to get on an elevator trumps a woman’s right to not feel uncomfortable.

    If a woman was going to feel uncomfortable, wouldn’t the easiest solution be, oh I dunno, quit being creepy, or to be sensitive to what women say? See, the rights of the man stop being the main concern here once the man refuses to listen to the woman’s advice on how to change the situation.

    When men only consider their own interests, instead of taking the advice of women as to how they can make women feel more comfortable, the situation will inevitably deteriorate and worsen for everyone. Narrow complaints will not help women feel better – and such insensitivity to women advances quite closely to misogyny. The act of someone like Elevator Guy is forgivable – anyone can screw up. An understanding of individual fallibility is a foundation of a solid skepticism. The clear problem is a lack of sensitivity.

    Let me give you an example: I’m a college student, and on my campus, we are fortunate enough to have a skeptical/atheist group. By far, most of the members of our group (especially the most active) are male. I am male myself, but I have seen what it’s like for women at a lot of our meetings. Even without obvious sexism, I can feel how our gatherings can be intimidating for women – and I want to help change that. The first step is to listen – to have some empathy.

    You ask why it’s OK for atheists to make religious folks uncomfortable. It’s OK because we skeptics want religious folks to understand what it’s like to be atheist. Women and other feminists simply want you to understand what it can be like to be a woman. So listen up – the empathy you seek from the religious, others ask you to follow yourself. Listening with empathy is the first, and most important, thing you can do to help make women more comfortable and improve the experiences of everyone.

  • http://indiscriminatedust.blogspot.com Philboyd

    Well said, Teleprompter. With that, I’m going to follow Ebonmuse’s lead and move on to other topics. I doubt it’ll be long before the next sexism-in-the-atheist community (SITAC?) thing pops up, unfortunately.

  • Danikajaye

    Rape and sexual assault are a harsh reality for all women. There are all types of varying statistics about the frequency of rapes, assaults and violence against women but I think we can agree that it is horrendously all too common.

    The only thing that rapists have in common is that they rape people. They can be strangers, co-workers, class mates, friends, from any ethnic background, old, young, devoutely religious, not religious, tall, short, charismatic, shy, rude, polite- you get the picture. The majority of rapes are men raping women. I interact with different men every day of my life and from a statistical point of view SOME of these men will have raped somebody or will rape someone in the future. I have no idea who are rapists and who are not. I really wish that none of them were but that is not the reality of the world that we live in.

    As a consequence of this reality I have to be conscious of my personal safety every day in a way men do not have to be. It is a horrible thing to have to think about but women have all types of “rape protection” or “risk minimisation techniques” drummed into them from a young age (Don’t wear this, don’t do that, only walk in lit areas, carry pepper spray or a whistle, don’t get drunk and the list goes on). Be you a man or a woman, don’t you wish the world was different? Don’t you wish women could move through the world and NOT HAVE TO THINK ABOUT THIS CRAP? Don’t you wish that we didn’t even need to have this whole conversation because guarding against rape wasn’t a daily consideration for half the population? What is more is that protecting myself against rape is such an ingrained habit I don’t even realise I’m doing it.

    So if it was 4AM (when there are less people around)and I was in an elevator (an enclosed space with no means for a sudden exit) with a man (who I can’t know one way or the other isn’t a rapist because as I said the only thing rapists have in common is that they rape people) and he makes a sexual advance towards me all my alarm bells for my personal safety will start to ring and I will feel threatened or “creeped out”.

    Now if you are a “Decent Human Being” and a non-rapist wouldn’t you prefer not to put me in a situation where I feel threatened in the first place? If you are going to proposition me, wouldn’t you prefer to do that in some place I feel safe, where I have an exit and where I don’t have to worry about if you are a decent human being that will respect my boundaries and my feelings? Sure, you can proposition me in an elevator when there is nobody around and no exits and I am free to say no but in the world we live in do you think I can be confident that you will respect that no? Fear of being raped and fear for your personal safety is a perfectly rational concern, especially when you are a woman. It is not hysterical. Unfortunately, it’s fucking realistic.

    If you are an empathetic human being that cares and respects the feelings and experiences of others then of course you don’t want me to feel like that. If you are not a rapist and a decent human being and you can avoid adding to the burden of the women around you by making them feel safe and respected then why wouldn’t you? How much of an inconvenience is it NOT to make women feel vulnerable and unsafe? How hard is it not to make sexual advances towards someone in a setting where they may feel vulnerable?

    If you are a man and you never realised how much time women put into thinking about their safety and not getting raped, that is okay. It’s okay that you didn’t know what it is like to be a woman, what it is like to walk through the world being constantly sexualised and hit on. However, now that there are women on this blog, on PZ’s site and on various other sites where this incident is being discussed, that are telling you about their experiences and what makes them concerned and uncomfortable you need to take notice. When we say “uncomfortable” it really is an understatement. “Uncomfortable” is having a rock in your shoe.

    The disappointing thing about this whole conversation has been the reactions by some people. Many atheists, in general, pride themselves on being open minded. Many of the atheists I have talked to pride themselves on being good people who take exception to the pain and suffering caused by religion and pain and suffering in general. So here are women saying in no uncertain terms that they sometimes feel threatened, disrespected and fear for their safety and it is falling on deaf ears. I have seen people saying on some threads that they flat out don’t care. They don’t care that a large chunk of the population feel routinely harrassed and threatened. From my point of view that really sucks. I hope you can rethink your position. Walk in my shoes for a day. I can assure you they are fairly typical. I have been groped and assaulted too many times to count and I’m not alone.

    Maybe this seems like a small issue to you because it doesn’t effect you. It is a tiny fragment of a much larger problem that women deal with daily and I can tell you it really sucks to be told in a forum of supposedly caring and open minded people that your safety, feelings and experiences don’t matter.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Thanks, all. I think these points have been made more than clearly enough for everyone who’s willing to hear them. And now it’s past time to move on.


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