A Few More Thoughts That Are Sure To Be Uncontroversial

I know you’re sick of this by now, but I need to get my own thoughts cleared up and it helps me to write them down. So there you go.

  • I had said before Elevator Guy was a creep. I’m now convinced that was a poor choice of words because that gets him off easy. He put Rebecca Watson in the uncomfortable position where, if she said no to his advances, there’s a chance he could’ve acted in a scary/I-Don’t-Wanna-Think-About-It sort of way. It doesn’t matter if that’s rare or if that’s not your intent. A lot of men (and some women) don’t know what it’s like to be in that situation — I know I don’t. And if we ignore the fact that it’s an uncomfortable situation for some people to be in, we’re only going to make the matter worse. If I understated the situation before, I offer my apologies. I’ll try to do better next time.
  • A question to throw out there: Would this situation have been bad if the same conversation took place just outside the elevator before either of them got on? (My answer is yes, but I think that scenario gets more to the heart of the problem and that’s a discussion we ought to be having.)
  • I called for a civil tone when I first wrote about this. That doesn’t mean “don’t take this issue seriously.” It means we need to stop talking over each other and calling each other names at the expense of getting the message across to those of us willing to listen. Not every person who doesn’t see this as a huge deal is a “rape-apologist” and not every person who thinks this is a big deal is a “feminazi.” That doesn’t mean there’s a middle line to take here — I don’t want people to defend what Elevator Guy did. But let’s educate others about why he was wrong instead of arguing over why some people “don’t get it.” (I know some of you feel like you’ve explained this all before, and it’s exhausting to say the same stuff again, but until more people in our movement are educated about it, it has to keep happening.)
  • I had written before that the way Rebecca publicly berated Stef McGraw at the CFI conference was unprofessional. That led Amanda Marcotte to call me a “sexist paternalist” whose intent was to shame Rebecca for being successful.

    Nothing could be further from the truth. I support feminism and I tend to support most of the things prominent feminists say, but that is a completely unfair accusation.

    Since everyone is so quick to point out the lessons we missed from Feminism 101, here’s a key lesson from Education 101: When a student says something you know is wrong, you don’t correct the mistake by humiliating her in front of her classmates. You acknowledge the parts she got right and then gently guide her toward the way she ought to be thinking. If you want her to never speak up again, you call her out in front of her peers and make her feel bad that she raised her hand in the first place.

    Since it’s been lost in the shuffle, and because people have (correctly) said we need to pay more attention to women’s feelings in light of all this, this is what Stef had to say after the exchange at CFI took place:

    My first reaction was complete shock. I wasn’t surprised that she had seen my post, but I didn’t think she would choose to address it during her keynote, let alone place it in a category with people advocating for her to be raped. In fact, I was excited to possibly speak with her afterward in order to discuss the matter face-to-face. Instead, all I could do was just sit there and watch myself being berated for supposedly espousing anti-woman views and told that I wouldn’t stand up for women in sticky situations with men, as one hundred of my peers watched on. I found both of those accusations to be completely and utterly incorrect, as anyone who actually knows me could tell you I care deeply about fighting sexist thought. I started thinking, how can I respond? It didn’t feel right to have to endure a widely respected keynote speaker’s accusations that I was a living example of what was wrong with our movement while I sat there unable to defend my position.

    As I said before, I don’t think Stef fully understood the danger inherent in those situations, but how dare anyone say she’s “anti-woman”? I thought one of Rebecca’s goals (in life, in her blog, on her podcast, etc.) was to educate people about skepticism and feminism and whatever else she deems significant. From one educator to another: You could have handled it better.

  • Richard Dawkins has been a punching bag for the comments he made about the incident — and rightfully so. He downplayed the seriousness of what happened in the elevator because there are worse cases of misogyny out there — and by doing that, he’s showing us that he doesn’t get it either. Jen was right to say he’s exhibiting “male privilege.”

    But this isn’t a person who’s anti-woman and he’s certainly no dummy. We want him to “get it” and it’s upsetting that he doesn’t. I don’t get these comments people are making about how they “lost all respect” for him, as if he’s made no other contributions to science and atheism and, yes, women’s rights. He made a mistake. He’s wrong. We know it. He doesn’t. Yet.

    He didn’t run away, though. He *asked* people to tell him why he doesn’t get it. He wrote: “I will gladly apologise is somebody will calmly and politely, without using the word “fuck” in every sentence, explain to me what it is that I am not getting.” So let’s correct him, because if we can get the message through to him, he has a greater ability than most of us do to pass it along to other people who need to hear it. Explain it to him in calm, rational way because that might get through to him.

  • Some people (mostly men) have said the elevator incident wasn’t a big deal. Here’s what you may not understand (and I don’t think I connected the dots until now):

    I’ve been to dozens of atheists conferences over the past several years. At just about every one of them, the men have vastly outnumbered the women. As a result, the women become something of a competition for the men. Who can hit on them? Who can sleep with them? Obviously, not all the guys do this and we don’t even talk about it, but enough of them do what Elevator Guy did that the women have basically come to expect it. (And then we wonder why it’s so hard to get them to attend atheist gatherings.)

    So why not just kick out those individuals who are making the women uncomfortable? It’s not that easy. To begin with, it’s not just a small group of men. Some of them are prominent guys. Some of them have run (or do run) atheist organizations. There’s not always a smoking gun that points to harassment (kind of like in the Elevator Incident), but incidents like that are not uncommon.

    How do I know this? Because I’ve been around the women who are subject to this treatment. They talk about it. They talk about the “Old Boys’ Network” atmosphere that permeates not only our conferences, but also some organizations and their boards. Sometimes, they’re hit on, and other times, they’re excluded from important conversations and prevented from holding positions of higher authority. It’s a serious problem for us. It doesn’t just apply to one “type” of woman, either.

    Paradoxically, I think the way we fix this is by getting more women involved in our movement. But we’re pushing them away by treating Elevator-like incidents as if they’re not representative of a larger problem. All of us need to call those incidents out when they happen and educate the people who don’t know better.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://preliatorcausa.blogspot.com/ Joé McKen

    Well said. I haven’t read the rest of Amanda Marcotte’s post and therefore cannot comment on it, but the portion that constituted her response to you was, quite frankly, outright bullshit. If you can’t even call someone out for treating a critic unfairly without having to deal with accusations of sexism, when gender had absolutely nothing to do with what you said, then something’s gone quite wrong.

    Honestly, I would think you being a career educator for who knows how many years, dealing with untold numbers of stubborn youths and developing the best ways to get them to learn, would give you a leg to stand on when it comes to such matters as how to deal with people doing it wrong.

  • Hugh

    Hemant, very sensible comment amidst all the noise and shouting. It’s a pity people can’t seems to mentally separate the two incidents: Elevator Guy’s behavior towards Rebecca Watson vs. Rebacca Watson’s behavior towards Stef McGraw. I posted a comment on Pharyngula criticizing the latter and immediately had 20 people jumping down my throat, claiming I was a rape apologist. The irony is that RW (justifiably) complained about being put in an uncomfortable situation, and immediately turned around and put Stef in an uncomfortable situation. (Obviously not an identical situation or necessarily as uncomfortable, but it was a bullying and/or oblivious act on Watson’s part.)

    I guess what disappoints me most is this: in religion, you believe with absolute certainty that you are right and others are wrong, so you don’t have to put yourself in their shoes, you don’t have to entertain the possibility that maybe, just maybe, you are wrong. In the rationalist community we should be beyond that kind of thinking, and yet we too easily revert to it. That’s why a blog post can generate 1000+ heated comments while nobody learns anything or changes their mind. People are so convinced of the rightness of their position, they attack everyone else without caring what the other person is actually saying. This leads to counterattacks and a vicious circle.

    I would just appeal to people, try to figure out what the other person is actually saying, try to put yourself in their shoes, try to find out if there really is disagreement, where it lies and how wide it is, before biting their head off.

  • Some Lady

    Ok, so let me get this straight… a woman is going to her hotel room at 4am and there’s a guy in the elevator with her, and he invites her to his room for coffee, and she is offended? Do I understand this right?

  • El Bastardo

    My major issue throughout was not the actions of elevator guy, or Rebecca mentioning this on her blog but….the insistence that anyone who wasn’t appalled by this was labelled “sexist” off the bat.

    Even P.Z. started by talking about misogynistic, sexist men.

    OK, so the guy made a clumsy pass, ok so she was unnerved by it, but to label the guy sexist because of it is just plain stupid.

    Also, to call any other guy doesn’t jump on the bandwagon sexist too, well, I know certain groups of people who act like that, if you don’t agree with us you get cast out, but we tend not to like those types if you get me.

    Finally, Dawkins was right, this is very, very very small potatoes yet PZ says

    However, the existence of greater crimes does not excuse lesser crimes,

    Crime? CRIME? Since when is it a crime to proposition a woman? For anyone who claims they have lost all respect for one of the most prolific biologists of our time simply because he didn’t jump on the feminazi bandwagon might need to re-evaluate their ideas.

    I get the feeling some people are far too busy trying to be appalled and liberal and modern, they have left any sense of reality far behind.

  • http://religionsetspolitics.blogspot.com/ Joshua Zelinsky

    And you’ve again managed to take a careful, well-thought out view that seems pretty accurate. Obviously this means you are both a male-privileged rape-apologist and a feminazi man-hater at the same time!

    Ok. More seriously, I agree essentially with your summary of this. Unfortunately, I don’t see any sign of things calming down soon.

  • KeithLM

    Phil Plaitt has labeled this as a “potential sexual assault”. That to me was the final straw. I’ve already stopped following him and skepchick over this nonsense.

    I was initially under the impression that there was a conversation in the elevator about Rebecca’s speech or whatever, and it seemed the guy wanted to carry on the conversation. She seemed to take it as a come on because she had made it clear she wanted to go to bed. I don’t think her first video was that bad of an overreaction, but everything since then has been, and Phil is the worst of all.

    Oh, and Dawkins was right on. Unless that guy did something physical, then there wasn’t any harm done. If he had asked to come to her room then I’d be on her side, but from what she first said of the incident I just don’t think there’s anything to it.

    Of course I’m a “priviliged white male” and therefor a potential sexual predator. So what the hell do I know?

  • http://www.actok.org William Poire

    Uncontroversial? I thiink your thoughts are controversial and unpopular to many. Doesn’t mean I think you’re incorrect, I just wonder if you slipped the ‘un’ in there accidentally. Good points. It’s a mess.

  • http://soberish.wordpress.com John Cain

    Hemant,

    I really can’t believe that you think Dawkins is being genuine in his desire to have this explained to him. There are now dozens of blog posts and thousands of comments (many in the very thread he commented on!) explaining the situation. He very obviously doesn’t want to have to learn anything or admit wrong at all. Which is pretty much the dictionary definition of privilege.

    Some Lady,

    I can’t tell if you’re completely ignorant, or just willfully obtuse. Can we create a sub-category for Poe’s Law?

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Adam Lee

    Very sensible, Hemant. My only (little!) disagreement is that, while Rebecca certainly could have handled her response to Stef differently, I don’t see anything particularly wrong with what she actually did choose. When you attack someone who has a broader platform than yours, you run the risk of them using that platform to respond! If I said something nasty about Rachel Maddow, would it be wrong for her to address my criticism on her TV show, knowing I can’t possibly reach as many people as she can?

    I completely understand that teachers are in a position of power and shouldn’t use it to berate students whom they have authority over. But surely atheist conferences aren’t analogous to this. We’re all equals here, in an intellectual sense at least.

    But don’t let that minor quibble make it seem like I object to this post. You said exactly what needed to be said, and I’m really encouraged by the response this whole fiasco has produced. Aside from Richard Dawkins’ very insensitive and poorly chosen comments, this is one of the first times I’ve seen the atheist community respond collectively, in a big way, to defend the cause of equality (notwithstanding the predictable comments from the Entitled Men’s Brigade). This is the kind of thing I really want to see happen more often, because the atheist movement and the feminist movement stand to gain so much from a closer alliance.

  • Sharklauncher

    The part about this blowup that bothers me the most is that it’s come to the point where people are vilifying one another for introducing “doubt” into the discussion.

    This is a skeptics movement above all else, is it not? Can we keep the discourse civil and open, please?

    Those who think “Elevator Guy” didn’t commit some atrocity are not themselves automatically “rape apologists”, and those who side with Rebecca are not automatically “overly sensitive”.

    The entire crux of this issue hinges upon how unprofessional the figureheads of this situation have acted, and this may be the only blog to point that out.

  • Brittany

    I don’t feel like Stef needs protecting. This is not a student-teacher scenario; this is an adult-to-adult conversation. Stef is not a child; she said something wrong and Rebecca Watson addressed why it was wrong. Rebecca didn’t spend her entire keynote talking about Stef; if she had, then I’d say that you were right.

    One of the things that I personally love about the atheist community is that we’re not scared to point out when someone is wrong. Like you said in an earlier post today, how many people in religious communities can call bullshit on their pastor?

    I never got the impression that Rebecca Watson was just blasting Stef McGraw in her address, but was merely pointing out something that is wrong in our community- which it is wrong. Lots of people had made the same assumption that Stef McGraw had, and Rebecca used that to show why it was wrong, and how things needed to be fixed.

  • http://soberish.wordpress.com John Cain

    @KeithLM:

    Rebecca clearly stated that this guy made her very uncomfortable. The problem being that this guy didn’t care whether he made her uncomfortable or not. It’s called empathy, and it’s something you disregard when you are treating a human being as an object.

    I really don’t understand what’s so hard to understand about this.

  • Egg Fu Laura

    Bravo on a wonderful post!

  • Sue D. Nymme

    Jesus Christ. Was this such an earth-shattering event that everyone has to blather about it for days on end?

  • maggie

    Girl here.
    Can everyone stop white knighting Rebecca for a second? The way I understand it, a guy who went to her conference asked her for coffee in an elevator. And the problem was that it was in an elevator? Suddenly assumptions are made because he could have harm her.

    What if this person was a girl? Would the same pretense for harm be there? What if the problem was that he was black?

    So far the only crime he committed was being a guy when he asked her for coffee in an elevator.

    I know how that might seem creepy, a lot of awkward guys are creepy. But he didn’t hurt her. He didn’t do anything he was accused of MIGHT have doing.

    We need more women in the movement, I get it. But is falling over this one woman’s offense to a invitation going to get it? I agree with Dawkins, not because he is a role model. Because elevator guy did nothing wrong. The next logical step in this argument is separate but equal elevators for the sexes, or rules about conversations in elevators. Men have rights, too, they are allowed to be in elevators and ask women for coffee.

  • mxu

    Thanks Hemant, I’ve been surfing the blogs trying to grasp the situation and You seem to make the most sense. There have been mistakes made on all sides and very few sincere apologies yet.

  • Jon Peterson

    Maybe I’m just shy or whatever, but I’ve never understood the mentality that leads to some of these actions from offending males throughout the movement. Don’t get me wrong — I don’t claim to not experience a physical attraction to certain females I encounter — but I also would never feel comfortable making any sort of advance on an individual who I hadn’t already interacted with enough to feel like there was a mutual understanding of each other between us, and also that there was a reasonable likelihood based on that understanding that she would agree and invite said advance.

    And I don’t understand, and thus don’t know how to educate others against, a mentality that thinks it acceptable to make random advances based on one-way knowledge (frequently: impersonal traits like physical attractiveness) of the recipient.

  • Ali

    You always say EXACTLY what I’m thinking, it’s scary!

    Especially this:

    I don’t get these comments people are making about how they “lost all respect” for him, as if he’s made no other contributions to science and atheism and, yes, women’s rights. He made a mistake. He’s wrong. We know it. He doesn’t. Yet.

    I agree with you on this, which appears to go against everyone else’s opinions.

  • ewan

    this guy didn’t care whether he made her uncomfortable or not

    You don’t know that at all. It’s entirely possible that he didn’t realise. A lot of people are used to being able to interact with their peers without having to hedge against the possibility that they’ll be thought of as potential rapists.

    After all this more men will certainly be aware that (some) women will treat them that way, but I’m not sure that’s a step in the right direction.

  • Some Lady

    No John Cain, I’m just trying to understand what all the hubub is about. I don’t know much about the situation, just trying to understand the basics, and all I know about it is what I’ve seen on this site. If someone on an elevator asked me to join him for coffee, and I declined, and that was all there was to it, I just don’t see why any drama should result from that. No clue how “Poe’s Law” would be relevant. Could you please elaborate?

  • Rich Wilson

    I’m leaving most of this alone. Not that I think it’s unimportant, it’s just that I don’t think I have anything unique to add.

    Although

    A lot of men (and some women) don’t know what it’s like to be in that situation

    I hope to not take the male privilege of saying it’s the same, because it’s not, but I once had another man get pretty insistent that we should ‘cuddle’. We were in his apartment. He had (good) reason to mistakenly thing I was gay. We met at mutual friend’s 10th anniversary coming out party, I was the only straight guy there. It honestly never occurred to me that he didn’t realize I was straight. But he kept on pushing even after I cleared up my sexuality.

    Now, I outweighed him by probably 20 lbs (and I’m not a big guy) and had a good 6″ on him. Plus, both sides of my body work well since I’ve never had polio. But the thought did cross my mind that if the physical roles were reversed, the conversation might have been even more uncomfortable for me.

    That doesn’t mean I “know what it’s like”, but when I hear about the elevator incident, it does bring me back, and remind me that how I feel doesn’t mean shit.

    And I know I’ve done stuff as socially ignorant as ‘elevator guy’. If anyone I’ve creeped out (or worse, but that’s the word we’re using) is reading-
    I’m Sorry.

  • KeithLM

    @John Cain:

    In what way did he make her uncomfortable and how was he supposed to know and how did he respond? She never told much of the actual story in the first video. She didn’t say what her response was and whether or not he said more. He said “don’t take this the wrong way, but I find you very interesting and would like to talk more, would you like to come my room for coffee”. Was there more to that conversation? Did he move towards her? How did he sexualize her? She never said anything more about what actually happened.

  • http://silveroutlinedwindow.wordpress.com/ Shannon

    Just wondering…. has anyone mentioned that her assuming the elevator guy was “coming on” to her with his one question is a sexist reaction on her part?

    I agree, a very uncomfortable,clumsy, miscalculated situation. But to be taken this far… and for any woman who is jumping to the opinion that any (straight) man is a perceived “sexual predator” simply because he is man is a stereotype and is the very definition of sexism.

  • Alex

    Rebecca clearly stated that this guy made her very uncomfortable. The problem being that this guy didn’t care whether he made her uncomfortable or not. It’s called empathy, and it’s something you disregard when you are treating a human being as an object.

    Blinded by potential dangers fed to us by the evening news and college rap sessions, the real issue of blatant disrespect against Rebecca Watson and women in general has been ignored. This misperception has also been responsible for the derailing male whingefest that we’re not all potential rapists – ignoring that the onus of sexual assault prevention placed on women marks them all as potential rape victims. Who cares about the difference between yourself and a rapist if you still appeal to your external genitalia over the thoughts and feelings of the women around you. Elevator Guy isn’t some socially awkward dork who made a faux-paux at 4am. He’s a guy used to a world catering to masculine necessity and took a chance on a sexual encounter despite her general public disapproval of this treatment and discomforting circumstances. How insulting.

  • Egg Fu Laura

    I think that a lot of people are missing the point. The point isn’t who is right or wrong. It isn’t about the level of severity of the situation. The POINT is to attract more females to the events and, thus, the conversation. If you want to remain a boy’s club, keep doing what you’re doing. But if you want to attract more females to the cause, change must happen and it comes from within. It happens when we stand up for the respect and security desired when females attend conferences.

  • Adam

    @John Cain

    this guy didn’t care whether he made her uncomfortable or not

    You have no idea if this is true.

  • mthrnite

    No one can know the mind of Elevator Guy. Somebody I trust told me he exists, so even though I don’t have proof of his existence, I have faith that he’s out there, offering coffee and conversation to elevator riders throughout the world.
    [i ] (the symbol for Elevator Guy)

  • Meg

    I like your calm tone and focus on behaviors and perceptions, Hemant. It’s easier to read than vitriol, exaggeration, and outright dismissals.

    Thanks for that.

  • Alex

    A lot of people are used to being able to interact with their peers without having to hedge against the possibility that they’ll be thought of as potential rapists.

    Why is an inappropriate sexual proposition only “uncomfortable” if it’s an invitation to rape? I’m sure the constant objectification as a female, especially when you’re Rebecca Watson at a high profile atheist conference, is uncomfortable regardless of your relative security.

    Her situation isn’t about potential dangers – it’s clearly about blatant disrespect. Everyone wants to defend the right of men to hit on any woman, at any time, for any reason. Do women not want the right to NOT be hit on for the sole reason of owning a vagina?

  • http://notanygods.blogspot.com/ Miss Coconut

    As I said before, I don’t think Stef fully understood the danger inherent in those situations..

    What danger? The danger RW could have been raped? There is that danger, of course, but the question is how is this a feminist/sexist issue? Rape is the result of sexism and desire for power, it isn’t the cause. RW never made it appear as if Elevator Guy would do her any harm, all she said was she didn’t like to be ‘sexually objectified in that manner’. As I’ve said previously, it is scary. I don’t doubt that at all, but, because one guy is socially challenged and made a stupid mistake that people should definitely avoid, this is not inherently a feminist/sexist issue, nor was RW being ‘sexually objectified’ in any manner, unless she failed miserably when it came to describing Elevator Guy. If, as I have already stated, he was coming on to her and not just being friendly, that’s different; but RW never said that and she never made it appear that way. What evidence do we have he was definitely someone sexually objectifying her and not someone that isn’t very good at socialising?

    I don’t want to say Elevator Guy didn’t make a stupid mistake, but if it was just a stupid thing to do, it isn’t fair to him that RW is making him out this way. Couldn’t we say it is sexism on her part? If it had been another female, even if she was a big, butch, gay female, would RW still feel that same way?

    And, of course, it’s completely possibly Elevator Guy was being a jerk and trying to get RW back to his room for more than coffee, — I’m not saying it’s not. And, if that’s the case, was he being sexist? Was he saying, ‘All women are good for is sex; they’re no as good as men; etc.’?

    All I’m saying is it wasn’t brought up that way, all RW said was some guy asked her for coffee because he thought she was interesting, she said no, and the end, nothing else happened. All this should be is, ‘Some creeper asked me to coffee in his room at 4 am in an elevator.’ Then her friends say, ‘Omigosh, what happened?!’ And she’d reply, ‘Oh, nothing, I just said no and we went our separate ways, but who does that?!’ It’s not, ‘OMG I was being sexually objectified in that manner after preaching about feminism!!1′

    The fact of the matter is any person that is more powerful than the other person they are with in an enclosed space asking what Elevator Guy did is a scary situation, regardless of sex.

  • Pryopizm

    @KeithLM

    Why must it come down to something physical?

    If a stranger offers a child candy–regardless of intention–is it only wrong if s/he actually abuses the child? Should we not teach our kids to be vigilant? On the other side of the coin, should we say, “Oh that guy, the one offering candy to the kids for no reason? No big deal.”

    It’s not particularly different in this case. Why is it our right–our privilege–to proposition them for anything regardless of the context? We absolutely should be aware of how our presence and attitude could make someone feel at any given time or place. We should never be the stranger with candy.

  • Offlogic

    I discount the opinion of anyone using the term “feminazi” just because the Human Gravy Blob popularized the phrase.
    I’m just saying….

  • ewan

    Why is an inappropriate sexual proposition only “uncomfortable” if it’s an invitation to rape?

    It’s not, but a lot of this conversation has centred around the idea that the reason that a woman feels particularly uncomfortable in this sort of situation is because of the fear of rape or assault.

    Clearly, a failed proposition is awkward and uncomfortable in other ways, but they’re less dramatic and less gender specific.

  • mihoda

    I guess it all comes down to whether you believe there are appropriate places/times/moods for certain social segue-ways.
    I’d say an elevator at 4 am is fine depending on the body language or mood, and I think a lot of people would probably agree.
    Feel free to post why you disagree.

  • JoshBA

    I have to say that the more I hear about this incident the less I am coming to care about the incorrectness of the actions of “Elevator Guy.”

    I really don’t get what almost all of this hostility is about. As far as I can tell, some guy made a pass at a girl in an elevator at 4 AM (this is the most grievous description I have seen of the actual incident). That’s it. One person made a pass at another person in an area where escape was not easy. Nothing else happened except in the mind of the party being propositioned.

    I’ll grant you that it is both inelegant and cruel to put someone in the position of being captive like that. But that MUST be the only offense being talked about, in my opinion, as there were no other offenses. He did not try to rape her. He doesn’t even come across as having been forceful.

    What would the response be if a man made a post about being propositioned in an elevator and being frightened by it? I guarantee you that he would have been told it wasn’t a big deal and that he was overreacting. The people saying that would be 100% correct.

    I take great offense at being labeled a rapist because of my gender. Don’t try to deny that is what every single person who claims there was the threat of rape implied in that situation is saying. If you didn’t consider men to be rapists, there was no threat and you are just being hysterically silly. Yet you are being serious. You really think there was a threat implied. You really think it is likely the man propositioning a woman in an elevator was a rapist. Fuck you! (*DISCLAIMER* that was an expression of anger and not a sign I wish to sexually assault you)

    I really don’t understand why I should be on the side of a person who instead of going “I was wrong, he didn’t assault me” instead loudly protests that her PROVEN FALSE BY THE SAME FUCKING INCIDENT thoughts were justified. I don’t understand why more people don’t point out that she was wrong and that he was not an actual threat to her.

    I am not a rapist. I don’t think I can listen to a person who thinks that just because I have a dick it’s safe to assume I might be one. I think I’m done with this place.

  • Matteo Watkins

    So how is drawing Muhammed different from drunken crappy chat ups in an attempt to solicit affection… on our latest du jour creation; the “offensive scale”? The whole thing, from start to finish (please let this be finished..??) has been a complete load of PC hog wash. Drunk guy hits on woman…creeps her out…and this is news? Is it right? NO. Is any of the discussion that has happened since Elevator Gate going to keep knob ends from being knob ends? NO. Move on people, nothing to see here.

  • http://soberish.wordpress.com John Cain

    Some Lady, I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt here. Here’s the rundown of the night, as I understand it.

    1. RW and EG were at the same hotel bar with other conference attendees. While they were with the same group of people, they never exchanged a word all night.

    2. During this time at the bar, RW complained how she was getting tired of being hit on all the time, and how she didn’t appreciate being objectified.

    3. At 4 AM, RW announced she was very tired and going to bed. Note: the bar was still open and was serving coffee.

    4. EG follows RW to the elevator. Inside, he asks her to come up to his room for coffee.

    In this context, it’s inexplicable that anyone can see this as anything other than a come on. Which means EG made his come on after hearing all night that RW was tired of being propositioned and that she was dead tired. He didn’t care, he just wanted to fuck RW. He disregarded her feelings and cared only about her ability to sexually please him. This is what we call objectification.

  • Egg Fu Laura

    Like I said, if you want to remain a boy’s club, don’t change. If you want to be more inviting to women, LISTEN TO THEM!!! Women are telling men to read about Schrodinger’s rapist because that is REAL to some of us. Why would we want to go to places where we know we could be put in uncomfortable and rapey situations?
    It has nothing to do with how you think it SHOULD be. This is just how it IS.

  • Santiago

    First, Hemant: brilliant job, on everything. You’re a voice of reason and moderation that we as a community sorely need. The way people on both sides have gone to each other’s throats. . .it’s disgraceful. My only small quibble of disagreement is that you haven’t completely convinced me on Rebecca Watson’s faux pas, although perhaps she should have simply given her comment without attribution, there was probably little to be gained by knowing who exactly had written the comment.

    Now, to all the guys that are saying we’re “not allowed to even show interest or nicely ask women to our rooms, Elevator Guy did nothing wrong,” etc: No amount of arguing and discussion will prevent women in general from feeling uncomfortable when propositioned by a man, at night, in an otherwise empty elevator. Or in similar situations with few people awake or around and no easy escape routes. No matter how much you whine that “we’re not allowed to express our sexuality” or that “we need signed forms in triplicate in order to flirt” this will not make women feel safe and comfortable when you approach them in those situations. It is a fact of life for women that they have to deal with fears and anxieties we probably never will and nothing you say will change that.

    I cannot beseech you strongly enough to google “A guy’s guide to approaching strange women without getting maced” and to read that article and educate yourselves. It’s hard to explain in a single comment the fundamentally different experience women have when dealing with members of the opposite sex and thus why we are upset at Elevator Guy and why what he did was wrong. So please, go read that guide.

  • NotYou007

    I am so glad I stayed under my rock during all this.

  • Bee

    Girl here.
    Can everyone stop white knighting Rebecca for a second? The way I understand it, a guy who went to her conference asked her for coffee in an elevator. And the problem was that it was in an elevator? Suddenly assumptions are made because he could have harm her.

    What if this person was a girl? Would the same pretense for harm be there? What if the problem was that he was black?

    So far the only crime he committed was being a guy when he asked her for coffee in an elevator.

    I know how that might seem creepy, a lot of awkward guys are creepy. But he didn’t hurt her. He didn’t do anything he was accused of MIGHT have doing.

    We need more women in the movement, I get it. But is falling over this one woman’s offense to a invitation going to get it? I agree with Dawkins, not because he is a role model. Because elevator guy did nothing wrong. The next logical step in this argument is separate but equal elevators for the sexes, or rules about conversations in elevators. Men have rights, too, they are allowed to be in elevators and ask women for coffee.

    R’Amen!

  • El Bastardo

    @John Cain

    He disregarded her feelings and cared only about her ability to sexually please him.

    You don’t know that. How do you know that he didn’t have romantic intentions? How do you know that he didn’t actually want to talk to her an get to know her? How do you know that, even if his hope was a physical tryst, you assume

    he just wanted to fuck RW

    yet you don’t know that he didn’t want to make love to her, to please her, to hold her after and have breakfast together the next say and see how it goes?

    You assume bloke talking to woman wanted quick and easy sex, now that is sexist.

  • http://standardspicywhatnot.blogspot.com/ Naomi

    I have actually been alone with a classmate in college in a school elevator and he did molest me…so from someone who actually was in the elevator with a creep who acted on his creep feelings (who did no talking at all) I don’t understand ???

  • Sue D. Nymme

    Really? This is so insanely important that five of Hemant’s last seventeen posts (and five of PZ’s last nineteen posts) have been about this elevator incident?

    You know what? I think maybe I need to unsubscribe for a few weeks. Maybe there will be less uninformed gossipy crap by then.

  • http://notanygods.blogspot.com/ Miss Coconut

    KeithLM Says:
    July 5th, 2011 at 6:46 pm

    Oh, and Dawkins was right on. Unless that guy did something physical, then there wasn’t any harm done. If he had asked to come to her room then I’d be on her side, but from what she first said of the incident I just don’t think there’s anything to it.

    People can say things to make you uncomfortable too, so I don’t think physical abuse is the only problem. The problem with most abuse isn’t the physical side, it’s the mental side. However, had Elevator Guy actually said anything sexist or demeaning, we wouldn’t be arguing about this, would we?

    ewan Says:
    July 5th, 2011 at 7:02 pm

    this guy didn’t care whether he made her uncomfortable or not

    You don’t know that at all. It’s entirely possible that he didn’t realise. A lot of people are used to being able to interact with their peers without having to hedge against the possibility that they’ll be thought of as potential rapists.

    After all this more men will certainly be aware that (some) women will treat them that way, but I’m not sure that’s a step in the right direction.

    My thoughts exactly.

  • Drew M.

    @JoshBA

    Well said.

    If nothing else, I learned a new word because of this bullshit.

    Misandry.

  • http://torontoatheist.blog.com Toronto Atheist

    Thank you, Hemant.

    After your recent posts, in which you appeared to be making light of the situation, I had lost a lot of respect for you.

    But I am extremely glad to see you clarify your position and show that you do indeed understand.

    I hope that in the future you’ll make your positions clear on controversial issues in our community, so they’ll be no need to set the record straight like this again.

  • http://soberish.wordpress.com John Cain

    Responses Disagreeing With RW: A Taxonomy

    1. The Social Situation Authority – “Rebecca shouldn’t have felt uncomfortable in this situation because I said so. Here, let me explain it so your ladybrain can understand…”

    2. The Dawkins – “How can you possibly be upset by this issue when issue X is so much more important? You don’t care about issue x!”

    3. The Strawman Arsonist – “How DARE you say that all men are rapists and that men can never hit on women? That’s crazy, you feminazi!”

    4. The Stef McGraw – “As sex-positive people, we are compelled to thoughtfully respond to every single statement of sexual interest. Oh…thank you, Mr. Construction Worker, for your detailed comments on my ass.”

    5. The ERV – “I hate Rebecca, so I’m just going to ignore the whole EG situation and focus on something else. Besides, she’s a starfucker who doesn’t even have a doctorate, you guys. I’m much cooler than her, fellas.”

    Feel free to add…

  • Charlotte

    This is another example of how our “group” continues to dissect the people it respects less. It’s amazing that the conservative religionists get the coalition “thing” more than we do, but they do.

    Does anyone believe that women are truly seen as important players in this camp (on the whole)? And this goes for the women as well who seem to think this is an unworthy topic.

    Poor little Richard Dawkins, all he wants is to understand what it means to be marginalized. Bless his heart.

    Egg Fu Laura is right. If women are anything more than conquests for guys, then you will heed her advice. This is more than the elevator incident and everyone here knows it.

    Only time will tell.

  • http://soberish.wordpress.com John Cain

    @Drew M:

    Please, won’t someone think of the poor, repressed straight white male!

  • The Captain

    Hemant this has been bothering me all damn weekend, but not for why most people think. First off, this is not a clear cut case of wrong behavior on the elevator. I have talked to several of my female friends about this and all of them said this is no big deal. Hell my girlfriend said RW should “grow a pair” (yea, we laughed at all the meanings of that), and I know a girls who jumped on an elevator to make out with a strange guy. My point here is that we are arguing over something that is subjective. There is no right or wrong way men and women should interact within a larger culture made up of subcultures (as the examples of the girls I know from above).

    But it’s the second thing about this that really bothers me and thats this whole skeptic cool kids clique that seems to be going on here with RW’s treatment of Stef. There seems to be a collective effort of RW’s little social club of bloggers to either justify her behavior and dismiss Stef (like PZ). Or to brush attention to that aside and direct the discussion solely to what Dawkins said (like Phil Plait did today). Perhaps being more involved with the skeptic community you may see this different, and I would love to know, but it seems that the opinions on subjective subjects are only to be considered valid if your in the cool kids club. Stef being the outsider can be treated anyway RW sees fit, and that’s excusable, but any slight against RW is a huge deal that must be brought up in unison all over the net.

    For me at least the signal this sends out to the wider skeptic community is there is a pecking order of opinions, and unless you are in the top club you should keep your mouth shut. Not a real good way to bring more people into the skeptic community I’m afraid.

  • Hitch

    I kinda agree. I think it’s largely fair and well argued position. I tend to have a little more sympathy for Dawkins than many, not because I think he has been sensitive. He hasn’t. The way he articulated his position was passive-aggressive by way of a post to comment to another user. But I cannot fault him for “not getting it”.

    I think it is a very murky topic, when someone can or cannot be approached. I think there are indeed cases where it is clear cut. But with the elevator situation, I get the fear, the discomfort, the unwelcome nature. I get all that, but frankly, any time I speak to someone I haven’t met yet that in the room. Sure I think it’s completely sketchy to hit on somebody in a confined space, but still, do we really want to translate that into a rule ala “in elevator, bad, outside elevator, good”? I don’t think so.

    The objectivication argument is tricky, because of course not every person feels objectified when approached. For some people it may in fact be welcome. I fully grant that Rebecca and many may see it as objectification or feel that way, but that hardly makes it a universal.

    As for the Schroedinger’s rape article, I think it’s worthwhile reading but at the same time, advice: Don’t rape. Really? Seriously? As if we don’t know and hold this? Yes I actually agree with a few people who pushed back against pushing this toward a rape threat corner. Sure there are guys who do need to hear: Don’t rape. A guy that hackled us at Take-Back-The-Night comes to mind. But virtually everybody around here understands perfectly well that we are not raping, and that no does mean no. As best I can tell the elevator guy did get the no that was clearly delivered to him. Albeit it’s completely fair that he should have gotten an earlier one and not be stupid.

    I think feminism is hugely important, but we should have an honest debate. Not deteriorate to stereotypes and name calling and branding who does get it (good people) and those who don’t (bad ones). I actually think that the whole meeting/dating/engaging patterns we have in north america and with diverse complexities in Europe are rather sexist and that there are real debates to be had to make it better. But we are not having those debates, but we have arguments just who has what kind of privilege.

    The point that conventions with large gender discrepancies are difficult places is well taken. In fact I would agree with folks who have argued that it probably is better to take the whole dating/party mess out of it, given the lop-sidedness. We want more women to be engaged, and if the experience is that desperate and socially inept guys just hit on your it is awful for the women and bad for the movement and yes any decent guy should not just stand by but tell the harassers to knock it off, or kick them out.

    But what really disturbs me is just how political this is. It’s camp driven and not so much argument driven. One can make easy friends by just picking a name and agreeing and protecting them. I frankly have lost a little respect for quite a few people and it’s not just Dawkins as is en vogue to say. And yes I agree the backlash you have gotten was uncalled for.

    But smearing people with negative brands, rather than work through disagreements seems to be the mode of discourse. I think it’s unworthy for what tends to consider itself a free thinking and skeptical community and yes that criticism goes to all “sides”.

  • KeithLM

    @Pryopizm:
    I’m saying if there was something physical that was over the line. He could also have crossed the line verbally, but based on the info we have, I don’t feel that to be the case. Based on Rebecca’s initial video on this subject there was nothing of a sexual predatory nature to this that I could see.

    John Cain:
    “He didn’t care, he just wanted to fuck RW.”
    Prove it. Perhaps he is genuinely interested in her for her intellect and wanted to continue the conversation. Misguided notion, certainly, but that could be the case. Perhaps he hoped to get some one-on-one time to potentially develop a personal relationship with her due to sharing common interests and/or finding her physically attractive. Or perhaps he just wanted to hook up with her. But to use such vulgar language implies that you know in his mind he saw her merely as a sex object.

    Over at Bad Astronomy someone put up some pics Rebecca has posted of herself in the past with implied nudity. She is certainly ok with sexualizing herself. Unless posting a pic of herself reading Phil’s book while apparently naked in bed is in no way sexual. That is something I find weird about this whole situation.

    Certainly it’s upsetting that there are many instances where Rebecca and other women have been hit on, groped, spoken rudely to, etc. at these events. That’s a damn shame, and I would contribute to stopping that in any way I could. However considering I’m now considered a “potential rapist” by people in these communities merely because I have a penis I’ll never attend one of these events. It’s too dangerous, as a male in this society you have to be careful not to put yourself into a situation where your actions are misconstrued because when you are accused of such crimes you are guilty until proven innocent, and often that doesn’t matter either.

  • ewan

    It is a fact of life for women that they have to deal with fears and anxieties we probably never will

    That’s true, but there are a lot of anxieties that we all have in common; essentially fear of any non-sexual crime. Being mugged, beaten up, whatever. It’s not the same, but it isn’t like we’ve got no basis for empathy at all.

    I think that part of the problem is the idea that been expressed a lot in these discussions that no-one has a right to tell someone that their fears are unreasonable, and if all men have to deal with the consequences of (some) womens’ fear of them then so be it.

    I think that falls over rather badly if you compare with any other situation – if someone says that a having groups of black men around makes them feel nervous then should all black men have to pander to that, or should we admonish the nervous person for being racist and suggest they get over it?

    It is not, as a general principle, fair to say that everyone else should have to work around your fears, regardless of well or poorly founded they are.

  • Sharklauncher

    Not a real good way to bring more people into the skeptic community I’m afraid.

    This is my point exactly. Dissent with RW, even as an interjection of “doubt” (something we ought to encourage in a community of skeptics), is met with hostility.

  • KeithLM

    The Captain and Hitch both just hit on some important things. This community is damn cliquey, and to the point that it’s getting sickening. It’s as if certain people are above criticism and everything those people say is the law.

  • http://soberish.wordpress.com John Cain

    @KeithLM:

    Prove it. Perhaps he is genuinely interested in her for her intellect and wanted to continue the conversation.

    Continue what conversation? They had never spoken, at all.

    Over at Bad Astronomy someone put up some pics Rebecca has posted of herself in the past with implied nudity. She is certainly ok with sexualizing herself. Unless posting a pic of herself reading Phil’s book while apparently naked in bed is in no way sexual. That is something I find weird about this whole situation.

    So she was asking for it because she was dressed that way? If you express yourself sexually, you have to be open to every single sexual advance that comes your way? You should look up “slut-shaming” and “victim-blaming”.

    However considering I’m now considered a “potential rapist” by people in these communities merely because I have a penis I’ll never attend one of these events. It’s too dangerous, as a male in this society you have to be careful not to put yourself into a situation where your actions are misconstrued because when you are accused of such crimes you are guilty until proven innocent, and often that doesn’t matter either.

    The greatest danger in our society is, of course, men being falsely accused of rape. This is second only to the danger of white people being accused of racism. Rape and racism are much, much further down the list.

    I seriously do not see how you take “please don’t do things like this that make me uncomfortable” as “I see every man as a rapist”.

    People seem to be looking for some hard and fast rule that’s always applicable. I’m sorry, but life doesn’t work that way. Context always matters.

  • http://sky.com alexb

    This whole saga is completely pathetic. The reaction to the incident described is pathetic. Dawkins needless and pointlessly sarcastic letter to something he deemed a non issue is pathetic. The emotional respone to such sarcastic drivel is pathetic. Everyones emotional ramblings about privilege are pathetic. Dawkins “someone tell me what I did wrong and heres a stupid analogy about chewing gum” is pathetic. The call to urge people to boycott Dawkins over this nonsense is pathetic.

    And whats most pathetic is we have lost focus on what Jens video was actually about. That by bringing this incident to light we might look at the way we behave as a community.

  • Egg Fu Laura

    It isn’t about being cliquey. It isn’t about that at all. It’s about some people who want the atheist movement to include women and will do what it takes to APPEASE the women who have been previously disrespected at conferences (or those who fear being disrespected) in an attempt to get them to come back and join the movement. It’s an attempt to let women know that we not only want them here for their body count, but because they are our equals. It is very important and I am sad that you can’t see that.

    The argument is only subjective if you don’t know what the argument is. The argument is that elevator guy’s actions repel a lot of women from attending conferences. That’s it. It’s not about sexism or how people feel about the situation.

  • ewan

    Please, won’t someone think of the poor, repressed straight white male!

    I’m pretty sure that’s the same argument that Dawkins has been decried for using – that you can’t worry about bad things that happen to one group of people because worse things happen to someone else.

    Sexist attitudes towards men are not OK just because women have it worse.

  • MAK

    Is there no way to discuss this incident based purely on what we have in evidence, even if that evidence is simply the original testimony from one witness who was there?
    Is is absolutely necessary to add and subtract what we “think” or “assume” happened in order to discuss this?
    Do we have to project our own desires and fears onto an unknown, invisible man who only one person claims to have interacted with.
    Is Rebecca Watson the secular movement’s Moses now?
    Exodus 33:11

  • cass_m

    You know I would feel some sympathy for McGraw if she could even mount some kind of argument for why she shouldn’t be considered sexist now. Why exactly does a man’s desire to talk to a woman trump a woman’s clearly stated desire to go to sleep? Her entire defence was transcription is hard so she skipped the part she didn’t think was important. An uncharitable view would be that McGraw cherry picked Watson’s video so she could imply that Watson’s frigid and too sensitive thus wrecking the boys fun since that’s become the narrative.

  • http://ashleyfmiller.wordpress.com Ashley

    Over at Bad Astronomy someone put up some pics Rebecca has posted of herself in the past with implied nudity. She is certainly ok with sexualizing herself. Unless posting a pic of herself reading Phil’s book while apparently naked in bed is in no way sexual. That is something I find weird about this whole situation.

    Just because someone is sexual at some points doesn’t mean that that is an open invitation to be mistreated. When someone repeatedly says that they don’t want to be seen as an object and hate being hit on at these events, hitting on them anyway is mistreatment. And arguing that “Well, she is a person who is sexual at times” is demeaning.

    Everybody has sex, and there are women in the movement who are very comfortable with their sexuality, but that doesn’t mean that they deserve to be treated like that’s all there is to them. Everyone makes their own boundaries, and that’s tough because you have to guess sometimes. But when people are explicit about their boundaries and someone still violates them, that’s inappropriate. No matter how many naughty pictures there are.

    Also, as a woman, I find it very upsetting to read what appears to be an iteration of “She was wearing a short skirt, she had it coming to her.”

  • Sam

    This is my first time commenting on this blog, though I’ve been following it for a while now. I watched both Rebecca and Stef’s videos when they first came out. To be honest, I was offended by Rebecca’s video and completely agreed with Stef. The entire elevator event may have gone down completely differently if Rebecca found the guy attractive. She might have bragged to a friend that some really cute guy asked her to coffee, but she was too tired so she said no. But because she wasn’t attracted to him, he becomes a creep who was practically raping her. She sounds like some popular girl in high school trashing the nerd who had the courage to ask her out. I immediately lost any respect for her. I agree with Dawkins and Stef completely. Just my opinion.

  • ewan

    I seriously do not see how you take “please don’t do things like this that make me uncomfortable” as “I see every man as a rapist”.

    No-one does. We take people commenting in these discussions saying flat out that they relate to every man as a potential rapist to mean that they relate to every man as a potential rapist.

    As leaps of logic go, it’s not a big one.

  • http://notanygods.blogspot.com/ Miss Coconut

    Ashley Says:
    July 5th, 2011 at 8:21 pm
    When someone repeatedly says that they don’t want to be seen as an object and hate being hit on at these events, hitting on them anyway is mistreatment.

    Sure, but was he hitting on her? Does he see this as hitting on her? Did he have sex or dating or rape or any of that on his mind? Who knows if this guy is even straight or not?

    (But, otherwise, I agree with you.)

  • Kenny

    Oh for fuck sake.. I’m just gonna go stop reading atheist blogs for a week until this stupid issue goes away.

  • Charles Minus

    So you don’t understand what’s wrong with this guy hitting on her?

    Why do you think they call it “hitting?”

  • http://kaleenamenke.blogspot.com Kaleena

    Hah! Well, I obviously missed something…

  • The Other Tom

    Some rather angry thoughts:

    1) I think tomorrow I start unsubscribing to any blog that mentions this incident again. Enough already.

    2) I am already unsubscribing to any blog that talks about white male privilege. Speaking as a white man who has worked my ass off for everything I have and who has starved and gone homeless when I was fired because the boss said she wanted a woman instead of me in my job and the welfare department laughed at me when I begged for help and told me I’d get nothing because I am male, I am sick to death of hearing about how white males have it so wonderful and how I am such an evil bastard who spends all of his time hitting on women inappropriately. (I’m gay. I don’t hit on women.) Lots of people have privileges in specific contexts. Lots of people get discriminated against in specific contexts. Don’t lump together everyone who isn’t JUST LIKE YOU and point a finger at them and say how evil they are because you get mistreated for who and what you are from time to time.

    3) If you read #2 and have decided I’m a sexist creep, then you clearly “just don’t get it” and are an anti-male sexist creep.

    4) Speaking as a feminist, I think it is of primary importance that men should think of women as social and personal equals, with people of either gender being capable of doing anything people of the other gender can do except for a few messy reproductive functions. So if a guy is going to think of women as his equal and treat women as his equal, then women are going to have to live with the fact that he might treat them in a manner he would feel okay about being treated – not realizing that she might not feel the same way. Women don’t have to like it. Women can tell him off for it. But if I was clueless enough about manners to hit on a guy in an elevator it certainly wouldn’t occur to me to think that he would think I’m going to rape him if he said no, so I can easily imagine that straight guy might never have imagined that he would be viewed as “potential rapist” for making a pass at a woman he was attracted to. Or to put this another way… guys who could never conceive of raping a woman are probably more likely to be clueless enough about her viewing them as potential rapists to hit on her in an elevator.

    5) The part that I think was rude of him was that hitting on someone in an elevator doesn’t afford them the opportunity to just walk away if they don’t like you, so there’s the uncomfortable awkwardness of “ew, this guy just hit on me and he’s not my type, what the hell do I say to him now while I wait to get to my floor?” Personally, I wouldn’t want to put someone in that position by hitting on them in an elevator. Regardless of their gender.

    I now fully expect to be vilified here because I have dared to state that maybe women aren’t the only group of people on earth who have it hard sometimes, and because I have dared to say that maybe the guy felt okay to hit on a woman in an elevator because maybe he actually thought she was his equal and capable of saying “no”. And when I am vilified and dismissed in this manner, I hope a few of you will take notice and consider what that says about the way any man who speaks up is treated today.

  • http://notanygods.blogspot.com/ Miss Coconut

    No, The Other Tom, I agree with you. I hate the whole ‘white male thing’ too, and I’m female. Hell, I’m not even 100% white.

  • Fez

    Does anyone agree with the characterization of Elevator Guy’s behavior as exemplifying misogyny?

  • Egg Fu Laura

    I’m not going to vilify you, other Tom, but I will say that the rights of those who have been systematically ignored are much more important to me than the rights of those who have always had a platform. As a gay man, you are clearly not in the same category as straight men, but to deny the fact that you are more privileged than other is extremely ignorant. I’m not saying you do it, but other do, constantly and consistently. It’s not only a big issue, but it is the only issue that keeps me interested in this movement in the first place.

  • Jon Peterson

    Lots of people have privileges in specific contexts. Lots of people get discriminated against in specific contexts. Don’t lump together everyone who isn’t JUST LIKE YOU and point a finger at them and say how evil they are because you get mistreated for who and what you are from time to time.

    I have nothing else to add.. I just feel like this text stands on its own and needs to be repeated and emphasized.

  • The Other Tom

    Oh, and… I already unsubscribed from Skepchick because while I didn’t know Stef McGraw at all, I thought her treatment of Stef was utterly unacceptable. Which is a pity, because otherwise Skepchick was a pretty good blog.

  • Drew M.

    @John Cain

    Please, won’t someone think of the poor, repressed straight white male!

    Aaah. I see what you’re doing. Trying to get into women’s pants by showing how sensitive you are!

    You go, you clever dog!

    Seriously, Read ewan’s response:

    Sexist attitudes towards men are not OK just because women have it worse.

  • Drew M.

    @The Other Tom:

    [Keanu]Woah![/Keanu]

    ::applause::

    That was awesome.

  • Jon Peterson

    Actually, scratch that. I do have something to add.

    While male privilege is a concept that, while it does technically exist, applies only to the category that can be classified as male and Caucasian. It is an analysis of results, and not a depiction of cause. People have bastardized the concept to use it as a method of invalidating white males, and in the process, ironically subvert the concept entirely.

    And frankly, it makes me livid that people would dare to claim I possess privilege in the very same breath they use to ignore and dismiss me based on a pair of traits over which I have no control… and claim those very traits are the source of said privilege.

  • John Cain

    Drew, please explain how I can get laid by commenting on the Internet. Your ideas about flirting are as misguided as EG’s. Nice job questioning my motives, though. You’d be very comfortable calling Orac a pharma shill with the alties.

    So noting that straight white men are not an oppressed group is anti-male sexism? You, sir, are hopeless.

  • Grifter

    The Other Tom, please don’t unsubscribe…you should stay in the dialogue, because you make excellent points.

  • Ollie

    Hmmm, why isn’t a case of “well, some (not all) women are made uncomfortable by this behavior (asking someone out in this situation) ” and the guys saying “oh, ok, I’ll be sure not to do that”. End of story.

    But I when I read of “feminists” saying that they KNOW that people who ask others out in this manner are using the potential for rape as a way to get sex, then I cease to listen to them because they sound like crackpots.

    Moral: being an atheist doesn’t make one rational.

    And, I am glad I haven’t attended one of these if this is the caliber of discussion that goes on at such events.

  • Patrick

    ITT, people are yet again shocked that a movement which strongly believes in the use of stigma as a tool for altering subconscious attitudes has, once again, applied a heaping dose of stigma to people as a means of altering subconscious attitudes.

  • Duo

    I watched Watson’s description of the event.

    I think the sexist one is Watson and this has spiraled into something ironically ridiculous.

  • http://www.rgdaniel.com/ Robert Daniel

    This is an important issue. But not, I don’t think, for skepticism or atheism. Which is why I read these blogs. I find the enormity of the tangent that everyone has gone off on, and the hysteria, amusing from a sociological point of view. But even that is wearing off. Now I’m in danger of feeling bad that I don’t feel worse about a feminist issue. If I want guilt, I’ll go to church.

  • Drew M.

    @John Cain:

    Drew, please explain how I can get laid by commenting on the Internet…

    That was sarcasm. Since you are obviously okay with the prevailing notion that all men are sexual predators, I simply applied it to you.

    I’m not surprised you missed it though.

    So noting that straight white men are not an oppressed group is anti-male sexism? You, sir, are hopeless.

    Are you being willfully obtuse here? I did not claim your comment was sexist. Neither did ewan, who answered before I did. To spell it out for you, your “repressed white male” comment implied that it is okay to be sexist towards men (And yes, in context as a response to my initial post, I inferred correctly). We simply refuted that.

    Take a look in the mirror next time you think someone is hopeless.

  • The Other Tom

    As a gay man, you are clearly not in the same category as straight men, but to deny the fact that you are more privileged than other is extremely ignorant. I’m not saying you do it, but other do, constantly and consistently.

    Uh, yes, that seems to be exactly what you just said.

    Let me give you a couple other examples from my professional career (in which I am a senior software engineer with 23 years of professional experience and my consulting time goes for $300 an hour)…

    I was a department director at a university, and I had a meeting with the director of another department at which we discussed that I would consider creating some software for her in the future and that we would have a followup meeting to discuss requirements in about a month when my schedule was more free. A few weeks later management discovered that she hadn’t been doing her job for about a month, and a major crisis was about to occur because of it. She simply told them I’d promised that my department would do all her work for her. I was asked about this and denied it.

    She filed a sexual harassment complaint with HR claiming that I had deliberately promised to get her work done for her and then not done it and lied about it because I hate women and can’t stand a woman being in a position of authority and was trying to ruin her. HR told me that this was very serious and I would be fired if I couldn’t prove her wrong, and that in their opinion I couldn’t possibly prove her wrong. I provided a list of women who had been my manager or had been on my staff who would vouch for my lack of misogyny. I wasn’t fired. THEN the other department chair claimed that I had deliberately set her up because I hate her because she’s a lesbian and I’m anti-gay. Again, HR came around to tell me I would be fired if I couldn’t substantiate that this was false. At this point I was pretty angry and told them that I am in fact gay and if they didn’t believe me I’d call my boyfriend so he and I could prove it for them. HR finally went away.

    But then she quit, and guess who got to work overtime for the next month to get her work done as well as my own?

    Or there was the job at which I had to hire a Sybase database administrator. We ran a job ad, I got about 1000 resumes, and only three had both Sybase experience and were looking for a junior position such as the opening, so I asked HR to set up the three interviews. They scheduled a fourth, with an asian woman who had great Oracle training but no Sybase. I interviewed all four… a white woman, a hispanic man, a white man, and the asian woman. The white woman was very eager but really inexperienced. The hispanic guy was trying to present himself as being really experienced but seemed to be making it up as he went along. The white guy was mediocre but seemed honest, had good references, and had low salary requirements. The asian woman didn’t speak english. I couldn’t communicate with her at all. I told HR who I wanted hired, since the choice was obvious.

    HR replied to tell me about the wonderful skills of the asian woman. I told them that yes, she has a lot of training, but it’s for the wrong product, and anyway that’s moot since she doesn’t speak english and I don’t speak chinese. HR then told me my department didn’t have enough women and it would make my department look great if I hired not only a woman but a minority woman. I told them that what would make my department look great was if I had staff qualified to do their jobs. HR then told me that if I wasn’t willing to hire an asian woman would I at least consider hiring the hispanic man? I told them that this was starting to strongly smack of racial and gender discrimination and that if it went on any further I would file a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination. They hired the white guy.

    A month later they started telling me that the asian woman was still available. I told them I hope she finds a job. They told me outright that they wanted me to hire her and that would be great because then I’d have two database administrators. I told them that wouldn’t be great because one of them wouldn’t be able to speak with me and would be a drain on my budget. At this point the director of HR, a white woman, emailed me and accused me of hiring the guy I hired because he’s a white guy and because I hate women and am racist and that these are obvious because otherwise I would have hired the “better qualified” asian woman or hispanic man, and that the guy I hired is obviously not qualified for his job. I told her that I was tired of being accused of being sexist and racist and pointed out that I used to have another woman on my staff and that I fought tooth and nail to keep her when HR decided to lay her off. I pointed out that one of my peers, a woman, had recently hired a white man and that she hadn’t been accused of being racist and sexist afterward, and that these accusations seemed discriminatory because I am a white man. I told her that the next time HR tried to accuse me of sexism or racism they would be hearing from my lawyer.

    So they hired the asian woman anyway and put her on my staff and ordered me to assign tasks to her. After two weeks everyone had to admit that she didn’t understand English and couldn’t communicate and was wasting a lot of my time because I had to spend hours trying unsuccessfully to explain things to her and then had to have someone else work overtime to get her work done after she failed to do it.

    I never got an apology for any of these incidents. Oh and there are more, but I’m tired of typing.

    Egg Fu Laura, to deny that as a woman in contemporary western culture you now get the automatic presumption of moral superiority if you make any accusations of sexism against any man is extremely ignorant. I’m not saying you do it, but others do, constantly and consistently.

  • Bee

    @Other Tom, please tell me you have a blog, cos I wanna follow it!

  • Ollie

    The Other Tom: I don’t dispute what you wrote; from my academic experience it sounds all too believable. Sometimes in an effort to right past (and present wrongs), these things happen.

    But these sorts of things, while irritating, frustrating and time wasting, don’t really compare to what some call “privilege”.

    But yes, sometimes well intentioned attempts to be inclusive go astray, and it is all the more frustrating when people who don’t know their heads from their YKWs are attempting to tell you who is really better qualified.

  • MAK

    Agree, I want to hear more from @Other Tom. You are a really great writer.

  • The Captain

    @Egg Fu Laura

    Sorry but I don’t know how to quote things so I’ll do it the old fashion way.

    “It’s about some people who want the atheist movement to include women” But what type of women? See I run with a, shall we say “rougher” more “coarse” crowed outside of skeptic events, and I have very good female friends that I know that have no problem with being hit on by guys. And guess what… most of them actually like it. I just asked a friend I just talked to on the phone what she thought about getting hit on in an elevator and she said “depends on how hot the guy is”. I have seen more than one of my friends grab a guy at a bar and drag him out back into a car to have sex. They use the word “chick”, they can be rude, funny, and are really smart. They’re atheist, lawyers, waitresses, artist, mechanics, architects, nurses, maids, scientist, and skeptics, just of a different cloth. I have always thought they would make great skeptics at these events, but apparently they are not welcome within the skeptic community. or if they are, they’re opinions are not as valid as some. They would probably offend RW within 30 seconds of meeting to her. And if she doesn’t think they are feminist enough… good luck saying that to their faces.

    “do what it takes to APPEASE the women who have been previously disrespected at conferences” like Stef was? Why is it O.K. to disrespect her (which is what RW did)? Because she doesn’t hold the “correct” opinion on such a subjective subject? So RW can not be “disrespected”, but Stef can?

    It seems in an effort to be more inclusive, we seem ready to throw a lot of people out.

    My point though is there seems to be a trend of defining what the skeptic community should be like, how they should act, and who should be in it, all by one small clique of blogger friends. Stef’s opinion on something, that boils down to personal taste are just as valid yours, or RW’s, but Stef (and anyone who agrees with her it seems) gets attacked by that clique and it’s followers as heretics. It’s just high school! RW’s clique is using their internet fame to kinda act like bullies to the kids who they deem not as important as them and whose opinions they don’t like, on once again, something that is subjective.

  • http://notanygods.blogspot.com/ Miss Coconut

    I want a blog from The Other Tom too!

    @The Captain: There’s something that says ‘b-quote’ above the area you type; click it, paste what you want to quote, and then click it again. It will look like this:

    <blockquote>What you want to quote goes here.</blockquote>

    …Just in case you wanted to know (your name is not a link, so I don’t know how else to contact you).

    Sounds like a great crowd of friends, by the way. :)

  • Tony

    To all the cowards threatening to leave to one extent or another if various bloggers/posters/misc other people don’t meet their demands. Please do. Go. Don’t come back. We don’t fucking need or want you. There’s nothing more pathetic than an idle threat. Either make good on it, or STFU.

  • Grifter

    @Ollie: “But these sorts of things, while irritating, frustrating and time wasting, don’t really compare to what some call “privilege”. ”

    That is EXACTLY what some call privilege. The fact that being a certain group member gets you benefits that you can ignore while faulting others is EXACTLY what the “privilege” group defines it as, to my experience.

    And @Other Tom, I think the verdict is in: you need to blog. You have no choice in the matter. You’re articulate, smart and have a viewpoint that many of us find interesting.

  • http://www.twitter.com/thedudediogenes The Dude Diogenes

    Maybe we need one of these for atheist/skeptic cons? http://beingawomaninphilosophy.wordpress.com/

  • Maddie

    I am a woman. I have been in uncomfortable situations, but this is ridiculous!

    When I first heard about this I read the article and watched the video. Honestly, without having been there it is impossible to know if the guy was creepy. WAKE UP CALL! People have casual sex. Casual sex objectifies both parties by definition. If it is casual then you don’t have any interest in the person except how they look and the actual sex act.

    I have no problem with what they guy said, I don’t know how he said it or his body language but assuming it was a simple sexual proposition, I have no problem. As long as that was the end of it, there is no problem. It made Rebecca uncomfortable. Fine, totally justifiable.

    If everything had been on the blog or on emails as it should have all would be well. Rebecca was supposed to give a keynote talk and instead hijacked it and caused a ridiculous scene. She could have said all that she said on her blog or in a video but that was uncalled for and didn’t do anything to help the situation. It was caddy.

    Women’s Lib gave us the right to express our sexuality and have casual sex. Reactions like this don’t help anyone. The rape talk is ridiculous, even Rebecca said that she didn’t feel in danger, just creeped out.

    Dawkins came off as insensitive but I think he is just tired of all the flying bull. I’m tired of it too. Yes, there is obvious sexism within the atheist movement and it needs to be addressed but this is not the conversation we should be having.

  • Daniel

    This is a great post, this is one of two Atheist blogs I subscribe to, so if you did not post what was going on, I would never know. People who complain about the widespread coverage of this story are spending way too much time browsing Atheist/Skeptic blogs and need to find a new hobby.

    Echoing the words of Dawkins, all I have to say to Rebecca is: #firstworldproblems. Sorry, but you don’t have a right to not be offended and never be creeped out. The ideology of, “Judging somebody by their thoughts and not their actions,” is EXACTLY the argument that Atheists use to prove the Christian god is immoral. It is extremely hypocritical to turn around and judge Elevator Man for his anything but his actions.

  • The Captain

    @The Captain: There’s something that says ‘b-quote’ above the area you type; click it, paste what you want to quote, and then click it again. It will look like this:

    What you want to quote goes here.

    …Just in case you wanted to know (your name is not a link, so I don’t know how else to contact you).

    Sounds like a great crowd of friends, by the way.

    Ahhh! Thank you Miss Coconut!

    And yes, thanks, they are a crazy blast to be around.

  • Not Guilty

    Facepalm. Just facepalm. Neither side has the high ground here and now we are fighting just theists. Is the cracker a symbol of Christ or actually Christ?

    Way to be atheists. way. to. be.

  • http://notanygods.blogspot.com/ Miss Coconut

    @The Captain: No problem! :D

  • I, too, have an opinion!

    Re: Daniel

    Echoing the words of Dawkins, all I have to say to Rebecca is: #firstworldproblems. Sorry, but you don’t have a right to not be offended and never be creeped out.

    People may not have a right to not be offended, but we of the atheist/skeptic community would not disparage ourselves by treating people with careful kindness.

    The ideology of, “Judging somebody by their thoughts and not their actions,” is EXACTLY the argument that Atheists use to prove the Christian god is immoral. It is extremely hypocritical to turn around and judge Elevator Man for his anything but his actions.

    I can’t speak for everyone, but I know that Ms. Watson was only judging Elevator Man by his actions and the reaction (unease) that it provoked in her. In fact, if you review her video, she spoke most at length about how the incident made her feel, and didn’t really address Elevator Man except as the catalyst for the conversation.

  • Chyrch

    Well that’s certainly one of the most patronizing posts I’ve seen in a long time.

    You must understand by now that just because people disagree with you doesn’t mean they’re wrong. Did you ever think that the reason many can’t explain their position properly is because they haven’t thought it through?

    You know what I’m genuinely curious about? What was the line the guy crossed to go from harmless to “possible violent creep”?

    Is it simply the fact that he was in the elevator with her alone at 4AM? If so, do you think it’s proper for him to take another elevator out of concern of making her feel uncomfortable?

    Or was it when he asked her for coffee? If so, how many men out there do you believe have a tendency to violence when they don’t get their own way?

    Really, ALL strangers should be treated with a sense of caution, men and women. But when your mind starts racing with thoughts of being attacked simply because a guy picked a poor time to ask you for coffee, I kinda think you gotta stop watching so many movies, so you would be less prone to sensationalize your own fears.

    Where does this reasoning end? Let’s say instead of Rebecca in that elevator, it was Richard Dawkins. Richard, after giving a nice speech and some socializing, gets into an elevator at 4AM. As the elevator is going up, the only other passenger (a black, gay man, who’s a fan), asks Richard to his hotel for coffee. If Richard later blogged about how uncomfortable he was in that situation, how long do you think the shit storm would last before he stopped being labeled a racist?

    That scenario might not be wholly appropriate, but I think it’s much closer to “exactly analogous” to some of the comparisons that have been spewed out.

  • Ethan

    I read about this on another blog (forget which) and came away thinking people are nuts, “potential attacker” and all this insanity, came here because I love the articles here and was curious what would be said. I agreed completely with what was written, the guy was creepy and guys should work to not be creepy.

    Then I read some of the comments and again it’s people talking about potential attacker and how horrible the guy was.

    Look, We’re all potential stalkers/rapists/attackers. Talk to a girl in a bar? How does she know you wont follow her home and attack her?! Offer to buy her a drink? WHY!? SO you can drug it?! If this is the way you go through life, I pity you. The guy was either wanting to talk to her more or was hitting on her, neither is evil, just a creepy place to do it.

    I agree guys should learn to stop being creepy, walking in an abandoned area behind a lady with no one else around at night? Stop, let her move on, then go. But an elevator ride isn’t an abandoned car park, it opens at every floor. Oh I know, he could have had a knife or a gun! If he had a knife or a gun it wouldn’t really matter where they were. They could be in the middle of a park on a beautiful sunny day surrounded by people and with a knife or a gun he could take her home.

    The guy made a clumsy and creepy pass, all this hate and anger towards him is just unjustified and ignorant… But I’m a privledged male who apparently doesn’t get it. So there’s that anyway.

  • cat

    You want to know why less women partcipate in the atheist movement? Shit like this comment thread, right here. Is there a single sexist dogwhistle that was missed?

    -Women are overemotional/hysterical/angry.
    -Denials about privilege.
    -Reverse discrimination!
    -”slut was asking for it”
    -It is your duty to educate me, oppressed people!
    -But, I am a guy, so I don’t get sexually harassed all of the time, therefore, I get to tell women that sexual harassment is not a problem.
    -Pretend to be defending another woman (it is all about Stef!!!)
    -Why don’t you speak up/object more? (ignore the social training and punishments on women who do just that).
    -Saying rape is used as a threat against women to control their behavior, or that we as a society often excuse rapes if we see the victim as improper, means that you think all men are rapists.
    -Some men rape=all men are rapists.
    -The harasser was just socially awkward. Have you no pity?
    -But can’t you see my pet issue is more important?
    -Racist bullshit about how you should be damned grateful you aren’t living around brown men who would mutilate your genitals, but instead live around good white men who harass you and make excuses when others do it.
    -Feminazis!!!!

    Small harassments and small instances of acting like a privileged ass wear people down. Oppression is often death by a thousand cuts rather than a single wound. These microaggressions (http://microaggressions.com/) add up and they are hurtful. But, what is even worse than the fact that a woman was verbally harassed is the complete barrage of sexism that has come in the responses. For fucks sake (and fuck you, Dawkins, if you don’t like the fucking f-word, because you have a long history of fucking sexism and I have no expectations that you will make any move to improve your behavior), get your heads out of your asses, folks.

  • http://unifreethought.com Stef McGraw

    This isn’t argument related, but a clarification: the video that some have referred to is by another student, not me. This is a common misconception in blog comments, and I hate to see myself taking credit for something that isn’t mine. Pass it on.

  • Zadius

    There’s clearly a problem in the atheist community and, as any rational person knows, in order to solve a problem you need to understand it first.

    The fundamental problem, of course, is that men don’t understand what it’s like to be a woman and women don’t understand what it’s like to be a man. Unfortunately, many people try to solve this problem by using a method that doesn’t work very well: trying to analyze the other sex instead of listening. “But she overreacted because…” “But he could have talked to her at the bar, so he must have thought…” It doesn’t work, so knock it off. Both sides.

    Yes, a person can feel threatened even when no threat was intended. This “either she’s irrational or he’s sexist” is a false dilemma. Let’s focus on a method that does work: raising each other’s consciousness about what it’s like from our perspective so that we can then work within that framework of common knowledge to find solutions to the problem, collaboratively. Women want to feel comfortable at atheist gatherings, and men don’t want to have to feel like they are walking on eggshells all the time. This should not be too difficult for a group of atheists with above-average intelligence. ;)

  • Jon Peterson

    @cat:
    You forgot:
    Ignoring all the rude/false/cruel/ignorant/etc things those who don’t side with your opponent have said, and writing as if all of your opponent’s flawed argument techniques are unique to your opponents perspective.

  • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

    Thanks Hemant, for pointing out something that I, and a lot of others see kind of clearly: EG’s bad behavior neither justifies nor excuses Watson’s.

    It’s almost something you’d tell a small child: Someone doing something wrong to you doesn’t justify you doing something wrong to someone ELSE.

    I can say though, that I’m not surprised the skeptic movement seems to be a bit of a self-congratulatory circle jerk. From what I’m seeing, you’d be a fool to go to one of the conferences if you don’t think in lockstep with the kool kidz. Why spend money to be dumped on.

  • Cortex

    Daniel,

    This is not a question of rights. She isn’t pressing charges against the guy, she’s criticizing something he did. Are you suggesting that the only appropriate time to complain about something is when one’s legal rights have been violated?

    And as has been pointed out already, she was not judging his thoughts, but his behavior. She was saying that that behavior is icky, and was advising people not to engage in it.

    The question at hand is not what one MAY do, but what one OUGHT to do.

    The way so many people are misrepresenting the facts of the situation in order to reinforce their worldview absolutely reeks of denialism.

    The source material is seriously right there on youtube. It’s less than 10 minutes long. This should not be so difficult.

  • Eleanor

    I’m a female, and I think Dawkins was right on. This is such a silly non-issue, and there are so many more important things going on to concern oneself with. Skepchick has lost another follower. I’m sure my privilege is showing, or something.

  • Zhuge
    2) I am already unsubscribing to any blog that talks about white male privilege. Speaking as a white man who has worked my ass off for everything I have and who has starved and gone homeless when I was fired because the boss said she wanted a woman instead of me in my job and the welfare department laughed at me when I begged for help and told me I’d get nothing because I am male, I am sick to death of hearing about how white males have it so wonderful and how I am such an evil bastard who spends all of his time hitting on women inappropriately. (I’m gay. I don’t hit on women.) Lots of people have privileges in specific contexts. Lots of people get discriminated against in specific contexts. Don’t lump together everyone who isn’t JUST LIKE YOU and point a finger at them and say how evil they are because you get mistreated for who and what you are from time to time.

    I happen to be of the opinion that the word privilege was a poor choice for the concept, Unfortunately, it is a semi-jargon that doesn’t really overlap with the use of the word privilege in other situations. That is, if I grew up in a wealthy family, I am “privileged,” or the aristocrats of the ancien regime had special privileges. It suggests a couple of things that don’t really relate to privilege in the sense of “white privilege,” “male privilege” or even “black privilege” or “Christian privilege.” The first is obvious by the point that I made in the last sentence, you can have both “male” and “female” privilege at the same time in the same society. For example, if I as a male go to apply for a job at a school, I might get looked upon as a more competent disciplinarian than a woman, but the woman may be looked upon as more nurturing and so a more capable teacher(regardless of if she is very stern and I very lax, based on sexist preconceptions). I also think that privilege has the very unfortunate notion, especially in the U.S. but elsewhere as well, of being something to be gotten rid of(like the special privileges of the aristocracy.) In that sense, saying that a male is privileged for not being afraid of rape could come off as insane.

    Thus, the concept does not mean what I think you may believe it means. That is, it does not suggest that because you are white or male or Christian or straight or whatever that you are “privileged” in the sense that you are very well off or even well off at all, or that if you are well off that you did nothing for it and don’t deserve it. It means something much more subtle, to my understanding. I take it to be that the worlds in which different socially constructed groups live in are somewhat different, and perhaps that some groups have less trouble in aggregate than others based on that grouping. Hence, being a white male doesn’t make one immune from suffering, clearly many many white males do. Rather, it makes one immune from suffering in a particular way. For example, as a white male I have never had anyone condescend to me about wanting to be a physicist. In that sense, I have been privileged but only in the sense that there are additional hurdles that women and people of color go through in order to become scientists, often based on wholly subconscious and not intentionally malicious patterns of culture and personality. In that sense, you are privileged as a white male, as am I, simply because our experiences don’t include the same things that women and people of color do. Similarly, they have privileges as well, of course, but that due to historical reasons are of far less importance since white males have much more power(not that you or I do, mind, but people who share some very basic details of our experiences.)

    It’s nothing to feel bad about, any more than you might feel bad about the fact that you live in a relatively wealthy country(I imagine) and others don’t. It’s not something to be blamed for, it just requires thoughtfulness and empathy.

    I also get how it can feel like people judge you for being a male sometimes. I’ve seen some insensitive comments on occasion too, which genuinely do lump all men together as porn addicts or womanizing fiends. But thankfully I find that these posts are rare, and even less common in real life. In any case, the fact that there are some people who don’t consider how something might make men feel doesn’t give us the right to not care how women feel. I imagine if we understood one another, both of these problems would go away eventually. Few people, I think, like to think themselves hurtful. But this, of course, requires us as men to move down that path as well, and more urgently.

    I am also sorry about them being jerks about welfare. My mother had similar problems in my childhood with people taking advantage of her for being poor, and out of cruelty obstructing our supposed safety net. It sucks but that’s why we need empathetic people who at least can try to understand other people’s positions and help them out.

    3) If you read #2 and have decided I’m a sexist creep, then you clearly “just don’t get it” and are an anti-male sexist creep.

    I think this is a secondary problem of definitions, and it’s one that I’ve observed throughout the debate. I’ve found a lot of people agree on more than is obvious, but the question of sexism is really tough. Some people think its obvious that elevator man was a sexist while others think it’s not justified by any facts in evidence. I think there is a major confusion between two different meanings of the word “sexism.” In the first we have something more akin to the everyday use of the word racism. It has a meaning suggesting Klan members and David Duke(or Rush Limbaugh for sexism,) that is, people who openly and consciously act in ways to hurt women(or minorities or gays or Jews or whatever it may be). Being called this kind of sexist is extremely insulting if one is not that sort of person for obvious reasons. On the other hand, the word sexist seems also to mean something again more subtle, namely acting in ways that are based upon a worldview, or cultural background, that ultimately ignores certain aspects of the different experiences had by men and women. (Or, again, by blacks and whites or gays and straights.) In that sense, it can be very easy to do something that is sexist, for example, by ignoring the circumstances of where and when you are hitting on someone. It’s not evil in the sense that it makes you a bad person, it’s just something that comes from not knowing about certain aspects of a gendered world(namely that it can be seen as threatening). As soon as one recognizes it, one can fix it with good results for everyone, so long as one is reasonably empathetic(as I am sure you and most of us are!)

    4) Speaking as a feminist, I think it is of primary importance that men should think of women as social and personal equals, with people of either gender being capable of doing anything people of the other gender can do except for a few messy reproductive functions. So if a guy is going to think of women as his equal and treat women as his equal, then women are going to have to live with the fact that he might treat them in a manner he would feel okay about being treated – not realizing that she might not feel the same way. Women don’t have to like it. Women can tell him off for it. But if I was clueless enough about manners to hit on a guy in an elevator it certainly wouldn’t occur to me to think that he would think I’m going to rape him if he said no, so I can easily imagine that straight guy might never have imagined that he would be viewed as “potential rapist” for making a pass at a woman he was attracted to. Or to put this another way… guys who could never conceive of raping a woman are probably more likely to be clueless enough about her viewing them as potential rapists to hit on her in an elevator.

    The meaning of the word “equal” should not be too stretched. It would be my thought that just as I would not presume to give a Muslim a glass of wine, since I see myself as his equal and I would like one, so I must also consider the different desires and feelings of women and their experiences generally in interacting with them. After all, I would not think that simply because black men use the N-word ironically among each other, it gives me an equal right to use the word since we are, after all, equals. Unfortunately, there is a great deal of context at play that it is good to be aware of to avoid hurting people.

    As for being clueless about not hitting on someone in an elevator, I think that’s the whole point of the conversation, and especially Rebecca’s comments! Not to judge you because you would do it out of ignorance, but to inform you so that you won’t do it once you have full knowledge. I hadn’t considered any of these issues before joining the skeptic community. I have made some errors in past behaviour out of ignorance, not recognizing the need to support someone (or why it would be frightening) when men were jeering at a woman. I do not think I was a bad person for that reason, but think that I should do my best to be helpful in the future, now that I understand.

    5) The part that I think was rude of him was that hitting on someone in an elevator doesn’t afford them the opportunity to just walk away if they don’t like you, so there’s the uncomfortable awkwardness of “ew, this guy just hit on me and he’s not my type, what the hell do I say to him now while I wait to get to my floor?” Personally, I wouldn’t want to put someone in that position by hitting on them in an elevator. Regardless of their gender.

    But the point is that as men, we’re stronger(on average) and so culture hasn’t put any fear into us of being raped. Our childhood movies aren’t about young men getting captured by evil wizards, for example! It’s not to say all women will be afraid in that situation, some will and some won’t. Similarly, not all people will be worried if I am muttering to myself on the street(as I tend to think out loud) but I’ve recognized that causing (if only some) people to be afraid, while not so bad as actually hurting them, is still a bad thing and if I can avoid it, I should do so. Not because it’s the law or I don’t have the right to or because I feel guilty or because I need to make up for my privilege, but because it is what would make other people most happy and costs me little if anything at all.

    I now fully expect to be vilified here because I have dared to state that maybe women aren’t the only group of people on earth who have it hard sometimes, and because I have dared to say that maybe the guy felt okay to hit on a woman in an elevator because maybe he actually thought she was his equal and capable of saying “no”. And when I am vilified and dismissed in this manner, I hope a few of you will take notice and consider what that says about the way any man who speaks up is treated today.

    We’re an atheist community, we know that other groups have it hard. We’re sort of one of them! But just because I can’t be elected president, or could be put to death in some countries, doesn’t mean that I have carte blanche to ignore the unique positions and problems that come with being a woman or black or gay. I would like if all these people and everyone else would understand the unique burdens of being an atheist, so it would seem hypocritical of me to ignore the unique problems and situations that they have(and of course, it’s certainly a good thing to know how to best help people). This does not mean that there are not unique problems related to being a white male. But ultimately, for now, (wealthy) white males as a whole have their problems addressed far more efficiently since they happen to have more money and power than most everyone else.

    There’s no reason to vilify you, and I don’t think anyone wants to, nor is it the purpose of our conversation. I think the point is to educate us men about what is different about the lives of women and how, if we really care about what hurts them, we could avoid it. This may be as obvious as “don’t rape,” perhaps more subtle, as in “call me Dr. and not Mrs,” or it may be something that we simply- given all the time in the world to ponder over it- would not condider to be a problem because we use the golden rule, saying “I’d love to be hit on, even in an elevator” since what it means to be hit on is a different thing as a straight male than as a straight female than as a gay male than as a gay female.

    These have been what I’ve taken away from the conversation and many others that I’ve lurked through, here and elsewhere. I’m fairly convinced that much disagreement in these topics is caused by these and similar misunderstandings. If not, then I am too optimistic, since it would seem people are more willing to jump towards saying some pretty awful things very quickly, but I would wager a good deal that many of the people who seem belligerent to some are really just using words in a different sense than is being read. Not that there aren’t any real disagreements, but I think that they are being exaggerated by a defensiveness that may be unwarranted. After all, we’ve all done awkward things before, but that doesn’t make us evil, and it would hurt if someone said it did. But I don’t think anyone is suggesting that, only it may sound that way through a bad translation!

    But forgive me if my analysis is wrong, I am sometimes too hopeful.

  • meko

    Of all the social events I’ve been to in the last five years, the three where I went solo to atheist meetups were the most uncomfortable. The two where a guy (different guy each time) followed me out of the bar and on my way to the car were more unsettling than anything except when a mugger tried to steal my iPod on the train (and even then I wasn’t scared, but annoyed).

    I think that the most important thing a person should do to feel safe is to trust their instincts, and after going to three atheist events and reading how this sort of stalker-y come-on is considered acceptable in the online community, I’m going to trust my gut and not go to these things unless something is so fascinating that it makes sense to drag a male escort.

    At the remove of the internet, the atheist community is perfectly nice, but I don’t like being brushed against “accidentally” repeatedly in an evening, I don’t like it when men try to corner me in a bar, and I don’t like it when they follow me out – even if the reason is that they’re shy and don’t want me to say “no thanks” in public. Honestly, no one was fascinating enough to make it worth repeating just to see if 2 out of three was a fluke.

  • mthrnite

    Elevator Guy is allegorical, or might as well be. He can be anything you want him to be. What matters is your internal relationship with Elevator Guy.
    [i ]

  • The Other Tom

    @everyone who wants me to blog: I’m flattered that you think so, and I actually did blog for a while in 2007, I own christianlies.org, but nobody was reading it and it took a long time to put together good posts so I stopped pretty quickly. It’s much easier to react to something than to put together original material on a regular basis.

    What I really wanted to do with the domain was to have a three column layout where on the left it would quote a radical fundamentalist christian, in the center I would demonstrate how it’s a lie, and on the right some liberal ministers I’m friends with would demonstrate how it’s also un-christian, but I never got around to creating the custom software to make it work.

    I’m not really prepared to take the time to blog regularly at the moment, my life is kinda too busy. (Even as I’ve been posting here I’ve been on the phone with my best friend from kindergarden to discuss her dad’s stroke…)

    I’m working on a book to “evangelize” atheism to christians, but I can work on that in large chunks once a month instead of having to work on it daily. I haven’t decided if I want to take it to a publisher, self publish, or just do it in HTML and post it on the web. Or post it in HTML and self publish. Idunno. But hypertext would make it much easier to create because it will have extensive linking to web materials and that’s difficult to do well in dead tree media.

  • Grifter

    Cortex:

    “This is not a question of rights.” Some have made it such. Her original point wasn’t about rights, but then, we’ve strayed far away from that, particularly when people start throwing rape into the equation, which she didn’t do.
    “She isn’t pressing charges against the guy, she’s criticizing something he did.” And like all criticism, it is up for debate.

    “And as has been pointed out already, she was not judging his thoughts, but his behavior. She was saying that that behavior is icky, and was advising people not to engage in it.” Which behavior, specifically? Because all he did was ask a tired woman if she wanted coffee. That’s his behavior. We may INFER his thoughts thanks to the common usage of slang, but then it once again becomes a discussion, because there’s no objective truth here, nor even aything approaching it (like, say a video where he leers lasciviously while he says it)

    “The question at hand is not what one MAY do, but what one OUGHT to do.

    The way so many people are misrepresenting the facts of the situation in order to reinforce their worldview absolutely reeks of denialism.” — I couldn’t agree more. Remember, despite the “source material” being on youtube, there is more to this discussion than simply that first video. Including her speech which was supposed to be about the religious right, where she took the opportunity to bully someone with a different opinion than hers, and subsequently accuse that woman of being “anti-women”.

  • Grifter

    @Other Tom: Kindle self-publishing FTW?

  • meko

    The important thing is to keep this stuff online if you don’t like being followed into confined spaces where no one is likely to hear you scream.

  • Grifter

    meko, a few points:
    1, EG almost certainly was staying at the hotel. He wasn’t following into the elevator per se, so much as going back to his room.
    2, Your comment is very incendiary and makes no real point.

    I understand your group in your area has bothered you. I still question certain aspects of your story, but I don’t think being snarky and incendiary is any more helpful than when your opponents ignore your concerns. In fact, if you’re just going to be snarky and incendiary, then perhaps it’s no wonder no one goes out of their way to make you feel comfortable? Maybe that’s unfair. But then, I would argue, so is your comment.

  • The Other Tom

    different desires and feelings of women and their experiences generally in interacting with them. After all, I would not think that simply because black men use the N-word ironically among each other, it gives me an equal right to use the word since we are, after all, equals.

    Yes, but you see, I would think it does give me the right to use the word since I’m supposedly equal. I’m not stupid enough to do so, but I find it offensive every time someone does – either because it’s racially insensitive if the speaker is white, or because it demonstrates an attitude of “some people are more equal than others” if the speaker is black.

    As for being clueless about not hitting on someone in an elevator, I think that’s the whole point of the conversation, and especially Rebecca’s comments! Not to judge you because you would do it out of ignorance, but to inform you so that you won’t do it once you have full knowledge.

    I did not feel that her comments were phrased in a tone that failed to strongly imply “men are bad”. But I’d already kinda been putting up with some of that on her blog, what pushed me over the line was her use of a keynote speech to chew out a member of the audience. Seriously rude.

    We’re an atheist community, we know that other groups have it hard. We’re sort of one of them! But just because I can’t be elected president, or could be put to death in some countries, doesn’t mean that I have carte blanche to ignore the unique positions and problems that come with being a woman or black or gay.

    Now, please consider that that remark basically implies that having said what I said, I must be ignoring the unique positions and problems that come with being a woman. I don’t know if you meant to imply that, but you did imply that. And it annoys the hell out of me. I don’t need to defend my behavior toward women, so I won’t. But do understand that I’m the sort of guy women tell me they really want on their side, a guy who truly believes that women are my equals and that I should stand up and work for their equality as I work for my own, so when I’ve reached my saturation point of “this is all the anti-men shit I can take”, something has gone very wrong.

  • meko

    Well, I’d say following someone out of a bar onto a deserted side street is going out of your way to make them uncomfortable.

    From what I can tell, what this is really about is getting more women into atheism so there’s more fresh meat to hit on. Even Hement has piped in to share that he’s noticed that these events can be a competition to get nail tail. That’s where I felt I was, and that’s the experience women are describing. Maybe it’s only 10% of the guys (but it’s enough to keep an evening full).

    When women say things make them uncomfortable and are rude, the priority is to emphasize that not all men are bad, there is a legal right to be rude, and some women like it anyway.

    The most bothersome point is that when someone is harassed, the person who atheists generally rush to empathize with is the one who “probably meant well”

  • Wild Rumpus

    I would also like to read The Other Tom’s blog. Most reasoned thoughts yet.

    To anyone who perpetrates the “White Male Hegemony” myth – you are being both racist and sexist.

    To the people who somehow think all men are rapists – I know hundreds of men who don’t rape and they love and respect their mothers, wives, daughters, and colleagues.

    To the people who think a clumsy pick up line is mysogynist you are WRONG – it is Actually phylogynist which is fondness, love or admiration towards women.
    Also, no one has the right to not feel uncomfortable. I personally feel uncomfortable when I get on an elevator full of black people. I know this is irrational and I know that I have to change my perceptions. It is not incumbent on all black people to learn they shouldn’t get on the elevator together because it makes me feel uncomfortable.

    Perusing Rebecca’s blogs and vlogs, she comes across as very bitter, a “hater” of things she does not understand, like men and courting. She also seems to see herself as a perpetual victim of the world around her.

    I’m with The Captain – my wife and all my female friends are fun loving optimists. As a matter of fact, my wife and I hooked up when I propositioned her in an elevator at 4 am by saying, “are you tired or do you want to go to my room and f@ck like monkeys?”. Married 10 years now.

    Now can we get back to discussing logic and reasoning and leave the histrionics to the religious people?

  • Egg Fu Laura

    I think the heart of the matter starts last year when bloggers asked what they could do to attract more women to conferences. Women responded saying that they would like to not be hit on as much. New women bloggers began getting asked to speak at conferences and they started saying things that some men didn’t like. If you read some of the comments to her blog and others, you can see rampant misogyny coming out of the woodwork. This, in turn, had to be addressed as well.
    Rebecca already has a bunch of attention on her, but I don’t think even SHE expected this to escalate to the degree it has. Her lecture was a response to complaints made by women that they don’t attend conferences because they get hounded by men. For rape victims and women who are especially sensitive and fearful of men for other reasons, this can be a very important topic that some people just don’t care to address.
    Rebecca addressed elevator man in her video as further evidence of how men shouldn’t act if they want to be inclusive of all women. I see nothing wrong with that.
    If we don’t want to be the good ol’ boys club, we have to be more sensitive to the things that other people want. If that means excluding others in the name of diversity, then that’s what we have to do. Sorry. :(
    BTW, I do not think what happened here is sexism. I do think this is a case of status-quo v. progress. We all know who wins in the end.

  • meko

    Women are histrionic because they don’t like people following them into confined spaces where they are isolated.

    Bet they’d brag if they found the guy attractive.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Hemant Mehta

    But what really disturbs me is just how political this is. It’s camp driven and not so much argument driven. One can make easy friends by just picking a name and agreeing and protecting them. I frankly have lost a little respect for quite a few people and it’s not just Dawkins as is en vogue to say. And yes I agree the backlash you have gotten was uncalled for.

    But it’s the second thing about this that really bothers me and thats this whole skeptic cool kids clique that seems to be going on here with RW’s treatment of Stef. There seems to be a collective effort of RW’s little social club of bloggers to either justify her behavior and dismiss Stef (like PZ). Or to brush attention to that aside and direct the discussion solely to what Dawkins said (like Phil Plait did today). Perhaps being more involved with the skeptic community you may see this different, and I would love to know, but it seems that the opinions on subjective subjects are only to be considered valid if your in the cool kids club. Stef being the outsider can be treated anyway RW sees fit, and that’s excusable, but any slight against RW is a huge deal that must be brought up in unison all over the net.

    For me at least the signal this sends out to the wider skeptic community is there is a pecking order of opinions, and unless you are in the top club you should keep your mouth shut. Not a real good way to bring more people into the skeptic community I’m afraid.

    To answer the questions:

    Is there a “cool kids clique”? Yes.

    Am I in it? Sometimes, yes. In this case, no.

    Do they all feel that only one point of view is acceptable in this case? Yes. To some extent, it’s justified. Again, we all want women to be comfortable at conferences. They shouldn’t have to feel objectified. We do want them to be treated as equals. We should all be aware that when women get hit on by guys, it’s not always “harmless flirtation” in their eyes. But when some women have suggested they’re aware of those feelings but they still don’t find anything wrong with the elevator situation, those comments are pretty much ignored or condemned.

  • I, too, have an opinion!

    Re: Zhuge

    I love everything you wrote, but I especially love this:

    Not because it’s the law or I don’t have the right to or because I feel guilty or because I need to make up for my privilege, but because it is what would make other people most happy and costs me little if anything at all.

    I wish this sort of thing was a guiding principle for more people.

  • Jamie

    It’s like that south park episode with the n-word. The ending says it all.

  • Egg Fu Laura

    NOBODY said all males are rapists– But a lot of us have been brought up with the theory that all men have the potential to rape and we are helpless to defend ourselves. This is deep psychological conditioning perpetuated by the media and shows like Law and Order SVU. It’s crazy to think this way, yet even I am tremendously cautious around every single man I meet. I can’t even begin to imagine what goes on in the mind of an actual rape victim.
    It is useless to make fun of this mindset because that won’t do anything but label you as an insensitive prick. If you really cared, there are countless other more productive things you can do to help remedy this situation. Psychology sucks sometimes, but you don’t have to suck, too.

  • http://de-avanzada.blogspot.com/ David Osorio

    Couldn’t disagree more.

    What you, and Rebecca and PZ are is female chauvinists.

    Think if it wasn’t Rebecca and Elevator-Guy, but an atheist who had just finished a conference at 4 in the morning and was going to bed, in his room. And when he is in the elevator, he’s with Elevator Girl and she asks him for coffee in her room.

    That is her right to do so and he would be in his right to say wether he wants to o wether he doesn’t.

    The feminist point of view is that women should be allowed to behave exactly like men do and not to give them special treatment (what Richard Dawkins stands for). You’re asking for female privilege.

    Why do they get to be treated more special than guys? Isn’t that how chauvinism and misoginy started in the first place?

  • meko

    So who’s gonna recruit the new-meat sacrificial lambs to be followed into elevators and out of meetups in order to fix all the simple misunderstandings?

  • Egg Fu Laura

    The idea that we would brag if we found the guy attractive is absurd.

  • meko

    Saw it everywhere, Egg, it was one of the big themes.

  • Dan W

    I’ve been avoiding commenting about this, because it’s turned into a huge shitstorm, but I’ve finally decided ‘fuck it” so here goes:

    When I first heard about this a few days ago, the first thing I did was watch Rebecca Watson’s video and then read Stef’s opinion on that. Then I read about how RW responded to Stef, and later how several others (PZ, Dawkins, and more) reacted to this. First, I think too many people are making assumptions about elevator guy’s intentions. Maybe he was hitting on RW, but maybe he really just wanted to talk with her over coffee. Nobody but elevator guy knows for sure, and it annoys me how many people have assumed things about that incident with no facts to go on.

    I’m more annoyed at the ridiculous way RW reacted to Stef’s disagreement with her. Is it really necessary to vilify someone just because they disagree with your view of what happened? Her reaction (and similar behavior from PZ Myers and other bloggers and commentors) seems pathetically clique-ish to me. Meanwhile, I think Richard Dawkins response shows that he, like me, is tired of minor events like this getting blown into huge overreactions where anyone who disagrees with the opinions of the offended woman (and her supporters) is labeled a sexist or rape apologist. I thought we skeptics were supposed to be above this nonsense.

    I’m also tired of the assumption that all men are potential rapists. This is bullshit, and I don’t think I’d want to hang around someone who assumes the worst of everyone because of the bad actions of a minority of people. This whole situation should never have become as big a deal as it is, and I’m sick of hearing of it.

    tl;dr version: I agree with The Other Tom, The Captain, Sam, KeithLM, Hitch, and various other commentors who’ve expressed similar views on this whole ridiculous issue.

  • Egg Fu Laura

    Zhuge’s response really says it all.

    We’re an atheist community, we know that other groups have it hard. We’re sort of one of them! But just because I can’t be elected president, or could be put to death in some countries, doesn’t mean that I have carte blanche to ignore the unique positions and problems that come with being a woman or black or gay. I would like if all these people and everyone else would understand the unique burdens of being an atheist, so it would seem hypocritical of me to ignore the unique problems and situations that they have(and of course, it’s certainly a good thing to know how to best help people). This does not mean that there are not unique problems related to being a white male. But ultimately, for now, (wealthy) white males as a whole have their problems addressed far more efficiently since they happen to have more money and power than most everyone else.

  • Egg Fu Laura

    I’m also tired of the assumption that all men are potential rapists. This is bullshit, and I don’t think I’d want to hang around someone who assumes the worst of everyone because of the bad actions of a minority of people. This whole situation should never have become as big a deal as it is, and I’m sick of hearing of it.

    Oh no, we wouldn’t want you to be considerate. That would be asking way too much. I’m so sorry for forgetting to consider your feelings on the subject.

  • Grifter

    Egg Fu Laura:

    Do you not see the hypocrisy in being so dismissive of consideration for others while complaining about a lack of consideration for yourself?

  • meko

    Something that doesn’t seem to be understood.

    Rapists don’t wear signs around their necks that say “I am a rapist”. There are good-looking rapists (Ted Bundy), there are unattractive rapists. It’s pretty much the whole range of human appearance. You can’t tell by looking at a guy whether he is, or is not a rapist.

    This is what is meant by the idea that a woman cannot assume that a man is not a rapist. It’s not suggesting that deep down a guy might be a rapist but not know it. It’s that you can’t assume based on looking at a guy that he’s not a rapist, because rapists look like everyone else.

    All you can do is look at actions. And the actions of isolating a woman physically, ignoring what she’s saying, stating that one has something inappropriate to say but is going to go ahead anyway, suggesting sexual behavior out of the blue all point to a certain lack of empathy, given that violence does exist aplenty in the world, that is cause for concern. It may mean that the guy is simply lacking imagination and social skills, but it is beyond me why any woman should be obligated to bet her safety on that.

    Nice guy that doesn’t hit on you when you are alone and vulnerable, not scary. Guy who flirts with you in a bar or asks you out when there are lots of people around, not scary. Guy that follows you into an elevator during the dead of night when no one is around, scary to a lot of women. Guy who follows you out of a bar to your car, often scary.

  • The Captain

    Is there a “cool kids clique”? Yes.

    Am I in it? Sometimes, yes. In this case, no.

    Don’t worry Hemant, even when your in with the cool kids club, your still cool.

  • Zhuge

    I’m also tired of the assumption that all men are potential rapists. This is bullshit, and I don’t think I’d want to hang around someone who assumes the worst of everyone because of the bad actions of a minority of people. This whole situation should never have become as big a deal as it is, and I’m sick of hearing of it.

    I think again this may be an error of language. I too was frustrated at the consistent calling of all men as potential rapists! (I am certainly not!)

    But it was made clear to me what that actually means is not per se that I, Zhuge, am a potential rapist but rather that I considered only as any male(and really any person, but the statistics unfortunately skew my way) am, since it is a possibility, a potential rapist.

    The point is that this dynamic exists in reality, in the same way that I treat any person I see on the street past a certain hour as a potential mugger. It does not mean that I think that they are bad people, but only that I take certain precautions just in the very rare offchance that they are. It is not as though if we were to go into a pub together I would not speak with someone I met outside since he/she, after all, is a potential mugger!

    This dynamic isn’t at all unfamiliar to anyone. Anybody could be a jerk, or a Christian or a Jew or a vegetarian. So in those cases where that matters(Will I serve pork? Will I say denigrating things to no gain about Christianity as idle conversation(as I do with my friends?) it is in my best interest as a kind person to at least put the needs of other people into consideration, where such costs me very little and may mean a lot. (If my friends go hungry since I overlooked their dietary needs at my party, I may not have done anything absolutely wrong, but it would have been better and certainly kinder had I considered them.)

    This clearly does not mean all interaction needs to end between men and women, that would be as insane as ending all interaction between everyone, since we all could be thieves and robbers after all. It’s just that due to the relative prevalence of rape and its cultural position, it weighs more heavily on women’s minds then men and is perhaps more ubiquitous in consideration than that of a mugging.(And of course the consequences are almost certain to be worse, which adds another dynamic to the equation. Being wrong about a potential jerk is obviously not the same as being wrong about a potential rapist.)

    If one looks at it not as a personal judgment but as a matter of fact when the veil of ignorance is (partially) lowered as it is among strangers, we should not feel too upset personally and perhaps may be urged to do something societally instead.

  • Grifter

    meko:

    “This is what is meant by the idea that a woman cannot assume that a man is not a rapist.”

    How about this: “Criminals don’t wear signs around their necks. This is what is meant by the idea that a police officer cannot assume that a black person is not a criminal”. Sounds terrible, doesn’t it? Why do you not understand that, while there is a certain practical benefit to what you say, there is still a huge problem with it.

    “All you can do is look at actions. And the actions of isolating a woman physically, ignoring what she’s saying, stating that one has something inappropriate to say but is going to go ahead anyway, suggesting sexual behavior out of the blue all point to a certain lack of empathy,” That is not what occurred. He did not isolate her. If he did indeed say “don’t take this the wrong way” (that is the supposed phrase, correct?), then I think the “wrong way” would be the slang usage of coffee for sex, wouldn’t it? And therefore she read too much into it?

    ” given that violence does exist aplenty in the world, that is cause for concern. It may mean that the guy is simply lacking imagination and social skills, but it is beyond me why any woman should be obligated to bet her safety on that.” She shouldn’t. Her safety is her decision. But is it his fault? Or is she responsible for her own decision?

    “Guy who follows you out of a bar to your car, often scary.” — not part of the original discussion.

  • meko

    He followed her from an environment where there were other people into an isolated environment where he could have blocked her exit.

    He said, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but” which is a statement that what will follows is inappropriate.

    There was simply no way to know, until the elevator ride was over what was going to happen.

    And that’s what atheist conferences are all about. Protecting a guy’s right to put women in situations where there is no way to know how badly things can go. Because it would be an imposition upon them to make an effort to speak to strangers where they aren’t alone when ascertaining interest.

  • Zhuge

    different desires and feelings of women and their experiences generally in interacting with them. After all, I would not think that simply because black men use the N-word ironically among each other, it gives me an equal right to use the word since we are, after all, equals.

    Yes, but you see, I would think it does give me the right to use the word since I’m supposedly equal. I’m not stupid enough to do so, but I find it offensive every time someone does – either because it’s racially insensitive if the speaker is white, or because it demonstrates an attitude of “some people are more equal than others” if the speaker is black.

    I did err in using the word “right.” I should have said, it would be hurtful of me to use the word knowing the cultural connotations. I may argue, perhaps, that no one should say it. But that would not mean that if others do, that I should.

    I apologize for my poor choice of words.

    As for being clueless about not hitting on someone in an elevator, I think that’s the whole point of the conversation, and especially Rebecca’s comments! Not to judge you because you would do it out of ignorance, but to inform you so that you won’t do it once you have full knowledge.

    I did not feel that her comments were phrased in a tone that failed to strongly imply “men are bad”. But I’d already kinda been putting up with some of that on her blog, what pushed me over the line was her use of a keynote speech to chew out a member of the audience. Seriously rude.

    I am not too personally concerned about the personal calling out one way or the other. I think Hemet may have been right that it was plausibly a poor use of the panel’s time, but even that is a judgment call. It’s clearly generated a hell of a lot of discussion, so I don’t know. But no disagreeing in matters of taste and all that!

    We’re an atheist community, we know that other groups have it hard. We’re sort of one of them! But just because I can’t be elected president, or could be put to death in some countries, doesn’t mean that I have carte blanche to ignore the unique positions and problems that come with being a woman or black or gay.

    Now, please consider that that remark basically implies that having said what I said, I must be ignoring the unique positions and problems that come with being a woman. I don’t know if you meant to imply that, but you did imply that. And it annoys the hell out of me. I don’t need to defend my behavior toward women, so I won’t. But do understand that I’m the sort of guy women tell me they really want on their side, a guy who truly believes that women are my equals and that I should stand up and work for their equality as I work for my own, so when I’ve reached my saturation point of “this is all the anti-men shit I can take”, something has gone very wrong.

    In your post though, you said that since you would not mind being in an elevator being hit on that therefore hitting on a woman in an elevator would be no big deal. To put an extremely fine point on it, I have relatives who would have no problem if the government forced them to pray to Jesus. I would. We live different lives and have different experiences. I don’t believe there is any sort of platonic woman or platonic man, or anything. But it seems to me that just because of weird cultural constructions that came about women(in aggregate) have some concerns I don’t. One of them is being hit on in an elevator. If most, or many, women would prefer not to be, I don’t think that’s a matter of equality. It may be a matter of generalization, but not a harmful one since it takes into account both reality and the interests of the people involved.

    By saying that since we are equal women should be ok with everything you are(or even what men in general are,) you are using a very radical sense of equal that I don’t think most people would accept since it takes a platonic ideal and tries to use it to inform reality. I too would love if women could feel safe in being hit on during an elevator ride. But alas, in the current age we fall a touch short of that. La vie est comme ca.

    Perhaps we differ on fundamental ethics. I am a consequentialist, and so- frankly- equality is only a means to an end for me. I imagine this may also be true for others here. In that sense, there may be other fundamental disagreements on what a feminist stands for. If so, I do regret any insinuation that you do not know women’s situations(I admit I don’t save from what I’ve gleaned, just to be clear. I’m not omniscient or anything and don’t pretend to be!). It would rather be that you know but don’t care since it conflicts with your ethics. That would be a more interesting but far more difficult disagreement, I fear.

  • BrettH

    I think this whole incident is particularly strange because I suspect it was pretty uncomfortable for RW, and between mildly and very embarrassing for EG, but all around not that big a deal. The reaction has been huge, and I feel nervous sharing a lot of the thoughts that when through my head on either side because some people seem to have gotten so caught up fighting for their cause that they’re losing track of how it relates to the incident that actually occurred.

    So instead of taking one side on one nitpicky aspect or the other side on some other nitpicky aspect (as I’m prone to do), I’ll try not to even touch the whole RW is completely right/ RW is too oversensitive spectrum of arguments.

    Instead, I will address elevator guy. EG (and other men like you): whether your goal is to meet the love of your life, have a chaste conversation over coffee or find women for casual sex, do not follow lone women into elevators to pursue your goals. Some will fight that it is in your rights to do so, and others will vilify you for being presumptuous, but either way you will not have that romance/coffee/sex. No matter what your rights or responsibilities, creeping people out is bad strategy, and if you want people to respond well to you it’s important to think about the situation you’re putting them in.

  • Hugh

    John Cain:

    Responses Disagreeing With RW: A Taxonomy

    1. The Social Situation Authority – “Rebecca shouldn’t have felt uncomfortable in this situation because I said so. Here, let me explain it so your ladybrain can understand…”

    2. The Dawkins – “How can you possibly be upset by this issue when issue X is so much more important? You don’t care about issue x!”

    3. The Strawman Arsonist – “How DARE you say that all men are rapists and that men can never hit on women? That’s crazy, you feminazi!”

    4. The Stef McGraw – “As sex-positive people, we are compelled to thoughtfully respond to every single statement of sexual interest. Oh…thank you, Mr. Construction Worker, for your detailed comments on my ass.”

    5. The ERV – “I hate Rebecca, so I’m just going to ignore the whole EG situation and focus on something else. Besides, she’s a starfucker who doesn’t even have a doctorate, you guys. I’m much cooler than her, fellas.”

    Feel free to add…

    I hate seeing people’s words caricatured like that. Do you really think this is helpful?

  • http://notanygods.blogspot.com/ Miss Coconut

    @Zhuge: That was nicely put!

    @Meko:

    He followed her from an environment where there were other people into an isolated environment where he could have blocked her exit.

    Where he could have blocked the exit? He could have pulled a gun in the room full of people, so why is this suddenly an issue? Some people would see this as a polite thing to do: He is seriously interested in her ideas and therefore wants to make that known to her by not making it a public affair. Just because he was ignorant of the fact that he could be seen as harmful or sexually objectifying doesn’t mean that he actually had any such intentions.

    He said, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but” which is a statement that what will follows is inappropriate.

    No, he thought it might be taken that way. Maybe he didn’t know how else to say it, so he began with ‘Don’t take this the wrong way.’ How is his statement that he is interested in what she has to say and would like to talk to her over coffee an inappropriate thing to say? Perhaps he didn’t think she would say yes, but was hoping she might make some other arrangements with him. If he were nervous, that would make complete sense, since a lot of people have a hard time communicating when they’re nervous.

  • Zhuge

    How about this: “Criminals don’t wear signs around their necks. This is what is meant by the idea that a police officer cannot assume that a black person is not a criminal”. Sounds terrible, doesn’t it? Why do you not understand that, while there is a certain practical benefit to what you say, there is still a huge problem with it.

    I don’t see why this is a problem, actually. It would seem reasonable for a police officer, investigating a crime, to consider a black person a possible suspect as much as a white person.

    The fact that women don’t seem to rape women very often(less than 1% of all rapes at my last check) makes it a crime far less worth worrying about and explains why men are the ones who are more suspect.

    In addition, the racism that you are trying to allude to is in fact the cause of why you think your argument succeeds. It depends on a belief that blacks are somehow overwhelmingly more likely to commit a crime than whites, which is simply false.

    On the other hand, race can be a factor, sadly, in some cases where interracial hatreds have genuinely boiled over. I would not blame an Armenian for being wary of a Turk immediately before the genocide, nor even of the people of Darfur being careful around the Arab population. It is again very sad that such racism might be useful and that a considerate Turk might not do things that would make the Armenian feel threatened that a fellow Armenian could do without a problem. But it would be at the very least kind to take those precautions.

  • http://www.nowhere-fast.net Tom

    There is a strong male reaction to the notion that some women, in uncomfortable situations, worry that any given man is a potential sexual predator. The truth is, though, that every man could be a rapist.

    Does that justify the assumption that any given man is a rapist? I would say, unequivocally, that it does not, however it is possible that, given different life experiences, my answer would be different.

    This is not analogous by any means, but I want to use an example. I am not suggesting that rape is anything other then a major, devastating and horrendous act. When I am approached by someone on the street who has an elaborate sob story and asks for money, I make the assumption that they’re a grifter and I’m a mark. What they say could be true and it’s entirely possible that they really do just need some change for the PATH to get back to Jersey, but my immediate assumption is that this person wants to get something from me and considers me nothing more than a means to their own selfish ends. I have been conditioned to expect this to the point that, even when I’m in a friendly environment, like a small town where “everybody knows everybody else,” I still expect a stranger walking up to me to be after only one thing.

    I do not consider myself a flirt. I enjoy polite conversation, small talk, and I try to be easy with a smile around strangers. The vast majority of my interactions with women are in absolutely no way related to sex – the only exceptions being time spent with my fiancee. I understand that some may consider me somewhat physically imposing as I’m above average height, relatively well built and I can’t help but carry myself like a soldier, however I try to diffuse any potential discomfort through a pleasant demeanor. All told, I really, honestly, don’t think that I come off as even a flirty, “sex on the brains” guy when speaking with women in public, much less a potential rapist.

    That said, if even the most well dressed, well spoken and polite person comes up to me on the street, I still immediately expect him or her to lie to me and ask me for money. That just comes from my life experiences – even though I know that I am probably being unfair.

    Would I blame a woman who has been exposed to rape, unwanted sexual contact and assault for treating me with a level of trepidation? No, of course I wouldn’t. I would hope, however, that she would understand on an intellectual if not an emotional level that I most likely am not going to assault her.

    Now, there’s nothing to suggest that Elevator Guy – I’m going to call him Gus because I want to – there’s nothing to suggest that Gus was any sort of sexual predator nor that he did anything other then make a poorly timed coffee request, but it would be foolish of us to expect every woman to assume only the most innocent of intentions on his part.

    However, it is equally foolish to suggest that the interaction itself is immediately inappropriate because some women would assume the worst intentions. To my mind, it is equally inappropriate to turn those assumptions into a dialog-hijacking incident for what appears, to this sometimes cynic, to be personal gain.

    The most destructive part of this debacle is that it has taken a very real concern that it seems many women who attend these conventions have – a high level of discomfort about inappropriate, juvenile actions on the part of men – and replaced it with a completely unwarranted laser focus on a particular incident. Gus may have been socially inept, he may have been sincerely looking for conversation, he may have been looking for a notch on his bedpost, he may have been a lot of things – but he and his actions were not representative of the issues that seem to be cropping up. Mature interactions between adults – which, to me, include either hitting or being hit on – are fine, however from what I have read its the foolish, prank-like and honestly borderline exploitative actions that need to be curbed. Shine the light on the guys who are pulling Porky’s style bullshit, not some schmuck in an elevator who said something a person with a platform perceived as a slight.

  • Zhuge

    In addition, the racism that you are trying to allude to is in fact the cause of why you think your argument succeeds. It depends on a belief that blacks are somehow overwhelmingly more likely to commit a crime than whites, which is simply false.

    My! It occurs to me that this looks like I’m accusing you of being racist. I didn’t mean it that way. I meant it more on the order of the reason it would sound bad to hear in real life is because of certain implied undercurrents of racism that may or may not be consciously known. I am very sorry if I insulted you, I absolutely did not mean to!

  • LKL

    Guys who don’t get it, please repeat:
    ‘I might not understand why this situation makes some women uncomfortable, but I don’t want any women to be uncomfortable from my behavior and so I promise never to proposition you in an elevator, alone, at 4am. I understand that this does not mean that I have to take an oath of celibacy.’

    There, was that so hard?

  • Indigo

    I’m also tired of the assumption that all men are potential rapists.
    Ah, yes, of course. In all this kerfuffle, we have forgotten that it is all about YOU.
    As we all know, all women are psychic and telepathic. We know exactly who means us ill and who does not. The one in four women who experience sexual assault? Knew all along exactly who was going to do it to them, and when, and where! They could absolutely distinguish, instantly upon encountering the people who hurt them, just what was going to happen. Women are constantly on their guard against men they don’t know, or men they don’t fully trust, to piss you off. How dare we be such nasty suspicious bitches, when it’s so damn hard on you. Positively exhausting.
    I’m being harsh. I don’t care. I have heard far too many men whine that it’s so unfair that women don’t trust them or are frightened of them and somehow this is the fault of everyone with a vagina instead of rapists.

  • The Vicar

    A question to throw out there: Would this situation have been bad if the same conversation took place just outside the elevator before either of them got on?

    Would it have been bad? Yes. But it would have been a different kind of bad, and probably wouldn’t have made such an impression. The intent of Creepy Guy, whatever it may have been, would have been exactly as good or bad as it was in fact, but she would have been spared a few moments of worry because it wouldn’t have happened in an enclosed space where her options for dealing with the situation were so limited.

    Consider: a stranger whips out a knife, starts waving it over his head, and runs straight at you, yelling incoherently. When he’s within a couple feet of you, he stops and carefully puts the knife away, then walks away. That’s a terrifying thing to happen no matter what, even though you don’t get hurt, but would you rather have it happen while you’re walking through a deserted park at 5 AM, or when you’re walking with your friends in front of a police station across the street from an emergency room during rush hour while holding your cell phone?

  • http://www.miketheinfidel.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    Your analogy is a bit flawed, in that in one situation it’s a knife and in the other it’s words. The comparison is a bit of a stretch. I mean, I could ask whether I’d prefer to be attacked by a bear alone or with friends around, but the fact that it’s an analogy doesn’t mean it’s a good one.

    /reminding myself just how little I want to have anything to do with this whole deal

  • anon No 23

    I don’t know if this is the right place to ask but after reading all the relevant blog posts I’m still at loss. What is this “male privilege” that Dawkins is exhibiting exactly?

  • Jon Peterson

    23: You misunderstand. He’s not exhibiting anything of the sort. The claim is that simply because he is white and male, that he has “privilege” and thus his argument is invalid.

    How any of that makes sense has yet to be explained, much less in any kind of sensible manner.

  • BrettH

    Indigo: I’ve rewritten a paragraph length response a few times now, I think I’m going to have to make this short and simple to actually get something worth posting.

    Not all victims of sex crimes have vaginas. The answer to some jackass on the internet trivializing someones pain or fear or even just annoyance is not to trivialize someone else’s pain or fear or annoyance.

    EDIT: I apologize if this is vague or unclear, but I had an emotional response to your post and felt I needed to answer despite being up a bit too late.

  • LKL

    @ Jon Peterson: No. His argument is invalid because it’s a bad argument; his cause for making such an obviously bad argument is his privilege.
    @ anon 23: male privilege

  • AxeGrrl

    Indigo wrote:

    I’m also tired of the assumption that all men are potential rapists. Ah, yes, of course. In all this kerfuffle, we have forgotten that it is all about YOU.
    As we all know, all women are psychic and telepathic. We know exactly who means us ill and who does not. The one in four women who experience sexual assault? Knew all along exactly who was going to do it to them, and when, and where! They could absolutely distinguish, instantly upon encountering the people who hurt them, just what was going to happen. Women are constantly on their guard against men they don’t know, or men they don’t fully trust, to piss you off. How dare we be such nasty suspicious bitches, when it’s so damn hard on you. Positively exhausting.
    I’m being harsh. I don’t care. I have heard far too many men whine that it’s so unfair that women don’t trust them or are frightened of them and somehow this is the fault of everyone with a vagina instead of rapists

    (bolding mine)

    That about sums it up right there.

    Women being naturally wary, as a result of experience and/or biology, ISN’T the same thing as asserting that ‘all men are rapists’.

    I’m a little disappointed that so many seem to need to have this ‘nuance’ explained to them.

  • Jon Peterson

    @LKL:
    I defy you to claim and thoroughly prove that the term “privilege” is not merely a straw man used to allow people to dismiss the opinions of others.

    I also defy you to prove that it exists, given the characteristics which so many commenters have attributed to it in this shouting match: white and male. Because I am both those things, and were I to relate to you a full biography (including brief family history) of my life, you’d have a damned hard time finding an example of privilege in there.

  • http://www.hovelonahill.wordpress.com GP

    I just wanted to let you know I really appreciate your voice in amongst our networks. It is sane, thoughtful and not dripping with mansplaining or unaddressed privilege. <3

  • LKL

    @Jon Peterson:
    read the link I previously provided for anon 23. See also The story of Bob and Race for a very brief explanation of white privilege.
    Using male privelege to dismiss Dawkins’ argument could theoretically happen, but it is irrelevant in this case because his argument is so patently bad.

    From Graham over at Blag Hag:
    “Dear Atheists in Fundamentalist Muslim Countries,

    Stop whining about how, if you were ever to reveal that you’re an atheist, you’d get stoned to death for apostasy. Yawn. I know every facet of your life is dominated by absurd, arcane beliefs enforced by the government, but think about how your poor British and American atheists are suffering.

    I mean, there are people here trying to get PRAYER into PUBLIC SCHOOLS. Our kids would have to listen to ridiculous words! And we have creationists who try to tell us that evolution didn’t happen!”

    It was a stupid argument, and while I’ve been around the atheist blogosphere long enough that I’m not shocked that it was made, I am shocked that someone like Dawkins would have been that idiotic.

  • http://www.angryvince.com Angry Vince

    Jesus Zombie Fucking Christ! Really everyone?

    Some guy makes a pass at a woman, woman gets upset about it, some other woman thinks first woman is overreacting, first woman then calls out second woman, elevator guy sits in his room and wonders if his breath smells…

    We all have far more important things going on that this shit and yet here we are.
    What happened to breaking down Christian agendas? Removing church from the classroom? Promoting Atheist rights? Helping young Atheists come out? Building a world free of religious persecution?

    If this is the most important thing going on in Atheism these days, then it’s time to pack up, pick a deity and bend over.

    Fuck me…

  • Beriaal

    Hemant Mehta a “sexist paternalist”… Really!?

  • The Vicar

    And yet you felt the need to add your voice to the discussion.

  • Well well well

    Christians trivialize atheists’ concern of religious establishment’s violation of separation of church and state. Christians say atheists are so obsessed with small petty things, like, protesting against a townhall erecting Ten Commandments on its wall.

    Atheists respond that violation of secularism is violation, no matter how small.

    Christians, vast majority of them, just don’t get it.

    Atheists now trivialize some of their own fellow atheists’ concern of sexism. Atheists say some atheists are so obsessed with small petty things, like, a guy advancing on you during elevator ride.

    Those atheists respond that sexism is sexism, no matter how small.

    The rest of atheists won’t just get it.

    Oh the sad irony…

  • volchok

    This is fkn ridiculous. I’ve read it on several blogs how the elevator situation was a potential sexual assault, are you serious?

    Is me driving a car trough a narrow street a potential car accident?

    I understand that the situation might have been extremely uncomfortable for the woman and that she may even have feared that something could go wrong (due to her perceptions of the situation) but to call a situation where a guy makes an invitation to a girl on an elevator a “potential sexual assault” is a joke. Sorry Hermain, but you are the one who doesn’t get it…Dawkins is absolutely right on this occasion.

  • http://blackholeofthought.blogspot.com/ Richard L

    Question: Did R. Watson say she thought there was a chance of rape?

    In my view (python-quasi-style):
    If the answer is “Yes”, the EG is a horrible example of a human being for what he did.

    Elif the answer is “No”, the EG is innocent and the situation was OK and the behavior was acceptable.

    Else, Your answer makes no sense. Please re-read the question, answer it and then explain why you disagree or agree with my comment.

    I have only ever heard that R. Watson said she thought the behavior was creepy, which can both be seen as fear of rape and an “awkward silence”-type of situation. I tried asking her to clarify on her video at YT, but I didn’t get an answer.

    I have read a lot of comments on this, pretty much half of which assumes there where thoughts of rape about the situation, and then there is a good number of people that don’t. So if anyone could provide me with a source on where R. Watson said she feared being raped, I could finally take a strong view on this. For now I cannot do that, and since it is such an important question, I wish to be able to take a stance.

    One thing that occurred to me reading R. Dawkins response is that he might have assumed the second type of case? It is in line with his gum-chewing comment.

  • Beriaal

    Schrodinger’s rapist:

    Men rape women more often than women rape men => women are justified to be on their guard when in the presence of men in particular => men should be extra-careful when talking to women…

    Schrodinger’s black assaulter:

    There are more African Americans in jail than white people, even though only 12,6% of the US population is African American => white people are justified to be on their guard when in presence of African Americans in particular => African Americans should be extra-careful when talking to white people…

  • http://selfra.blogspot.com dantresomi

    I agree with everything Egg Fu Laura says. We can’t expect more women to come to our events and join our organizations if we act like this.

    While I don’t know the elevator guy and where he stands on feminist theory, i do know that she felt uncomfortable and that’s enough for me.

    Until we recognize male privilege (as well as white privilege), we won’t be able to address sexism or racism in our communities.

  • Heidi

    If Ms. Watson had gone up to the guy’s room, and had been raped, I wonder how long it would have taken someone to ask why she would go up to a strange guy’s room like that.

  • Drew M.

    @Angry Vince:

    If this is the most important thing going on in Atheism these days, then it’s time to pack up, pick a deity and bend over.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that everyone involved with this bullshit is a mildly-retarded drama queen. Myself included.

    And I’ll bet dollars to dimes that someone takes offense to my usage of “drama queen.”

  • 42

    What if this man had been black? What would it look like when people went on and on about how it was a “threatening” situation, and she had “no escape”? Or what if he was Muslim, Jewish…? I imagine that she would become the bad guy in that case.

    Paranoia and prejudice toward white men is perfectly acceptable these days, isn’t it?

  • Thegoodman

    I consider myself a feminist. I enjoy educating myself about the feminist movement and the issues that all women deal with and I respect those issues.

    “Explain it to him in calm, rational way because that might get through to him.”

    The feminist movement and the feminist blogosphere have a disconnect. The above quote does not apply to the feminist blogosphere. I have asked that same question on numerous blogs an 100% of the time I get the cookie cutter response of…

    “Go educated YOURSELF you fucking douche canoe, and leave us the fuck alone, no one asked you.”

    Feminist blog circles get a kick out of pissing off anyone who is interested in learning from them and have a habit of pushing moderates away from their movement.

  • Cortex

    Grifter (and other mansplainers. You’re all basically saying the same thing),

    “And like all criticism, it is up for debate.”

    But you weren’t there to see what happened, so debating over how RW should or should not feel about the situation is stupid.

    “Which behavior, specifically? Because all he did was ask a tired woman if she wanted coffee. That’s his behavior.”

    Behavior is complex and context is everything. You leave out that she had just explicitly expressed her desire not to be sexualized in such a manner while at the bar.

    “We may INFER his thoughts…”

    His thoughts don’t matter. Thoughts, intentions, will, these things are always, always unobservable. The behavior can be evaluated by itself.

    “…it once again becomes a discussion, because there’s no objective truth here, nor even aything approaching it (like, say a video where he leers lasciviously while he says it)”

    And this, This this this this this is my biggest problem with this whole argument. Look at the standard of evidence you’ve just demanded, and look at what RW said. She briefly described what EG did, said that it made her uncomfortable, and expressed frustration that the guy still didn’t get the point that she’d been talking about for hours at the bar. And what does she get? She’s told that until she can prove incontrovertibly that this guy was a total creeper, her feelings are invalid.

  • Santiago

    I think some people here are not understanding how common and widespread sexual abuse is. The oft-quoted statistic is that one in six women in America have suffered from sexual abuse at some point. This is a huge proportion. Once you start reading about where and when these abuses occur you also start finding how they can happen even in the most innocuous or “safe” places, how quickly everything can happen, and how it often escalates from casual, day to day experiences.

    It’s just hard for us men sometimes to fully grasp what a life changing thing it is to always live under the fear of being abused. Actions or inactions we don’t think twice about would be considered foolhardy and stupid if done by a woman. I’ve never had to let someone know when or where I was going on a date and with whom, and I didn’t have to check in with someone the next day to let them know I was OK. These are basic things that women have to do to be safe, these are fundamentally different habits women have to follow. Why? Because, let’s face it, every woman is at a significant risk of being sexually abused or worse during her lifetime.

    Guys, we need to put ourselves in women’s shoes more (figuratively, at least) to understand why some of us are so upset about this.

    I know guys will immediately say at this point that “that’s unfair, you’re saying we’re not allowed to flirt anymore!” or something similar. This is not what I’m trying to say. I’d again recommend people to read the Schrödinger’s Rapist: or a guy’s guide to approaching strange women without being maced. Just google it and take a few minutes of your time to read it.

    Basically though, what you need to do before you start offering to “go upstairs for coffee” is to put yourself in the position of the woman you want to approach. Ask yourself: If she were to be approached by a guy who wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer, would she be safe? Would she be able to run away or ask for help? If the answer is ‘no’ then don’t approach her. You’re a smart guy, you can think of a better time and place in which to approach her. If you’re shy and don’t want to do it in public that’s fine, but you can still ensure that you ask her when she’s still visible by her friends, or in an open area with people nearby.

    It’s not that hard guys.

    What also frustrates me about EG and parts of this discussion is that in that situation almost any guy, no matter how attractive, would have had an almost 0% chance of getting the girl to go to his room. I mean, the guy had never talked to her before and she said she was tired and going to bed! It’s a bit weird to see guys defending our “right” to do something that will bring us almost no benefit at the cost of making us look like unsympathetic creeps and driving away women from future conferences.

  • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

    This is the general thing that’s bugging me. EG’s specific actions, i.e. hitting on someone, regardless of intent, were, to rebecca, creepy. That they weren’t creepy to someone else doesn’t matter, they weren’t there, she was.

    To my mind, that’s case closed. Done. No one has to agree with her, but she’s not wrong for thinking it.

    However, now we have a larger brouhaha about “Is it okay to hit on women at a conference *ever*?” and this entire thing goes right off the fucking rails at that point.

    We’ve got people saying no, never, you should never do this ever. Which is bullshit. We have PZ writing up guides to getting laid. Ew. That’s like your grandpa telling you he’s going to go upstairs and fuck your grandma. Ew. Natural, and good for him, but Ew. (That last one was also a Carlin joke. Don’t like it? Go yell at him.)

    There’s a lot of things people do at a conference or in real life that are bogsmackingly annoying and infuriating to people. But this idea that men in a situation where they find a woman attractive and want to see whose knees give out first for a few hours that night is not inherently bad, it is not inherently wrong. *That* implication is just as ignorant as EG guy’s actions, and had EG guy said what he said at the bar, i am 90% sure nothing would have happened.

    Pro tip folks: people get laid at conferences. I got propositioned at one once, right in front of my wife. It was the longest, drunkest, most inept proposition ever, I was not exactly sober myself, even though I was *desperately* trying to steer the conversation back into “john doesn’t get in big trouble land” in a way that didn’t embarrass anyone, (yes, I had some sympathy for someone doing something drunk and stupid. Sue me), and my wife, who doesn’t drink, was about to piss herself from laughing at how ridiculous the whole thing was. Had I been single, the ending of that night would have been vastly different.

    Or not. One never really knows, and I have ended situations like that with “How about after we’ve sobered up, you see if I’m still as cool as I am right now”.

    I agree that getting hit on inappropriately can be bad, especially when it involves douchebags following you out to your car or what have you to do it, but then, keep in mind, in the U.S., men and women alike have been taught from a very young age that this is not creepy stalker shit, it’s OMG SO ROMANTIC. (Have you ever seen a romantic comedy? If you did that shit in real life, you’d be arrested.)

    But that does not make the act, or concept of hitting on someone bad. It does mean perhaps we need a session on “Hitting on someone vs. being a creepy douche” or what have you. “How to inquire about sex without being Bundy” maybe?

    If you put a group of people in a room and there’s any chance that any of them think of anyone else in the room as a potential sexual partner, someone is going to get hit on. It is how humans are wired. If that concept is something that you cannot deal with, then I honestly feel bad for you, because going out in public will be a monstrous misery for you. But letting people know you’re interested in them beyond just hanging out? That’s a part of how relationships that lead to reproduction start. It’s kind of required.

    The problem is, (i.e. the real one) is teaching people how to do it in a way that is not BAD. Unfortunately, we can have all the humorous classes we want, but in the end, it’s going to take a lot of patience and time and a little deprogramming and the somewhat cynical realization that we’ll always be doing it. Because there will never be some magic time when people only hit on other people in perfectly appropriate ways and perfectly appropriate times, and anyone fantasizing about that, well, let us know how that works.

    tl;dr version EG guy was doing things poorly, but trying to get laid is not in and of itself bad.

  • A nonny mouse

    Oh, for fuck’s sake. I’ve just followed this story and I think RW is being absurd. Nothing happened. Get that? NOTHING HAPPENED.

    To everyone who is talking about rape, NOTHING HAPPENED. No touching, no sexually explicit language, NOTHING.

    And RW’s response has been stupid. Humiliating Stef at a conference? Classy move. Saying she has now lost all respect for RD after one comment and boycotting his books? Over-react much! Like all his good work for atheism (and without God Delusion I and many I know would not be atheists today) now means nothing.

    But you know what really annoys me? The fact that this is the ONLY part of the conference people are waffling about. What about the new Atheist Alliance International? Campaigning against blasphemy laws? Communicating atheism? You know, the stuff that was actually discussed at the fucking conference.

    Religites must be laughing their arses off at us, all falling over ourselves to argue tooth and nail over a non-incident. Is this really the most important issue for atheists at the moment? If so, I give up. I may as well find a fucking church, because the atheist movement is getting a bit cult-like itself.

    Neither RD nor RW are infallible, and RW needs to get over herself. The world does not revolve around you and your insecurities. Grow up, and can we all please start talking about ATHEISM again now?

  • Grifter

    Cortex: You are sexist and a misandrist. The term “mansplaining” shows you to be a sexist hypocrite. Apologies for my anger, but seriously?

    And you’re right, his intentions ARE questionable. You come at it from the perspective that it is an absolute certainty that he was asking for meaningless sex. I come at it from the perspective he may have offered a tired woman coffee, a stimulant. If it is the latter, then he DID NOT IGNORE HER STATED THOUGHTS. And yes, if she expresses an opinion, I think it’s ALL of our right to question it. If a friend tells me “oh, man that guy is such a creeper”, I’m going to ask WHY, and if he/she says something that doesn’t make sense, I’m going to tell them that I think they may have overreacted. Why does that somehow make me a terrible person? As I’ve said in other threads, her complaint isn’t a terrible thing, nor have I ever said she doesn’t have the right to make it. And I do agree that there is a big problem at these conferences. I just wonder if she’s adding to the problem by assuming negative intent in every interaction, and considering she’s shown she has no problem with being a bully, why is that an unreasonable inference?

    I think a lot of people don’t understand where the argument is coming from. I don’t think anyone here is saying EG did the right thing, just that what he did has not been shown to be ETHICALLY WRONG. He has not been shown to be a monster, or a rapist, nor even to have wanted casual sex at 4AM. We have only RW’s perspective. Which she’s welcome to. But maybe some men are tired of their every interaction being viewed through a sexist lens?

    Not to whine about personal experience, but I have a significant other, and don’t hit on women. Yet sometimes women’s responses when I talk to them, even though it’s exactly what I’d say to a dude, is unfairly angry (case in point, seeing a women carrying an organ box, asking her what is inside, and having her be angry that I presumed to hit on her. I wasn’t hitting on her, I was just curious what was in the “caution: live organs” box).

    I can empathize with a woman’s perspective. but that doesn’t make ME responsible for HER perspective.

  • Chyrch

    Beriaal, that was awesome. Summed up very well how faulty many people’s reasoning is on this issue.

  • catherine

    Well, I suppose that all of this will add a fun new twist to the “but why don’t more women participate??” discussions that seem to pop up in atheist circles with quite regularity.

  • Cortex

    Grifter,

    I used the term “mansplaining” because it describes the behavior I’m observing. Men are trying to explain away what RW has said, and they are doing so in a dismissive, privilege-soaked manner.

    You’ve also ignored what I said about the irrelevance of intent. The behavior was creepy. That’s all that matters.

    I also don’t think you understand what sexism is.

  • Cheng Vang

    She briefly described what EG did, said that it made her uncomfortable, and expressed frustration that the guy still didn’t get the point that she’d been talking about for hours at the bar. And what does she get? She’s told that until she can prove incontrovertibly that this guy was a total creeper, her feelings are invalid.

    Who said that!? Did Stef say that? No she didn’t say that. She didn’t say that Rebecca isn’t entitled to the way she felt. She just say that in her opinion the guy might not necessarily be a creep, that is debatable, that is not the same as “omg Rebecca shut up”.

    I think some people here are not understanding how common and widespread sexual abuse is.

    I think most people do get it and just disagree with the EG incident. And I would think that if you are trying to educate people about sexual abuse (as a public speaker and advocate) the first step is to not yell, cuss, and accuse people of being misogynist/rape sympathizer the moment any dissenting views come out of their mouth. No one is going to agree 100% with you on every single point, that does not mean they don’t understand the issue and automatically make them misogynists.

  • Cheng Vang

    Men are trying to explain away what RW has said, and they are doing so in a dismissive, privilege-soaked manner.

    What about all of those women who doesn’t agree with the EG incident? What about the rape victims who doesn’t agree with the EG incident?

  • Hitch

    See there is a very deep issue about gender in there. It is a very real issue. It’s about approaching, being approached, perspectives on how we see and treat each other, respective fears and causes that create that dynamic.

    That all is a very real and important topic. But we hardly have the discussion. There is one rather simple solution but extremely vague story as response on the table and a more diverse and actually substantial discussion is largely impossible.

    The story is roughly that Rebecca is right to say what she says (true), that hitting on someone in an enclosed space is problematic and induces fears of predatory behaviors (true). The solution is roughly “don’t do it”.

    But note how that doesn’t actually touch on the issue.

    The issue is that men typically approach and women are typically approached.

    And with that come a range of extra fears and issues. Some men did push back against the story for a range of reasons.

    Simply they have to approach. That’s the currently canonical gender role. So to say “don’t approach” without a substitute that is constructive is confusing. In a way that is how I see Dawkins issue. A man talking to a woman is no problem. That what they have to do. She can say no. That’s the pattern.

    I am actually all for critiquing this. But at the same time I see where that is coming from. What kind of an egg-shell dance do guys get into if we basically have the problem to worry: Is this setting OK, is this person going to call me a creep, is this going to be days of drama on the internet, etc etc.

    That leads me to a further point, that is the underlying fears and risks of approaching. Every time you talk to someone new there is this chance of rejection and of being branded creepy. The degree of these things happen can vary but this, it seems to me underlies.

    But what we get are articles that link to the fears of women, and telling guys to “not rape”.

    The effect is of course rather than engage with all underlying issues on the table add to the issues of the guys. Not only do you have a chance of rejection you have the chance of being seen as a potential rapist and have long discussions about that later on.

    But such is the trickery here, because of course noone should rape, or on the more mild front that really fits the story, noone should be making others uncomfortable, unless there is some actually compelling overriding reason.

    But that is just the first level. By and large guys have to approach. The gendered patterns around getting to know still run very deep, and especially in the US socialization to man asking and women responding is very strong.

    To me feminism means to actually challenge those underlying discrepancies, those strict role expectations and their consequent dynamics. Sadly the simple answer “don’t approach” does not solve the problem. While a few guys can get lucky and have good relationships based on that model, many guys don’t.

    The real solution, radical and utopian, of course would be that those pattern change. Who talks to whom is fluid and flexible, and in the whole everybody approaches and is approached about the same amount.

    Not only would both sides better understand the issues that are consequent of having each role, but undermine that the pattern creates this dynamics that some have described as a predator/prey situation. One is the approacher and one the approachee.

    The tricky consequence of that realization is that indeed everybody has to change. Guys do have to let off some. And women have to express their interest in more pro-active ways. But the dynamic is such that this is very unlikely to happen, exactly because either side is set up to perpetuate it and the change means work and new fears.

    We certainly have a complication here in that many people here are interested in atheism, not in gender roles. Gender roles underly. And these issues are not issues for everybody. Some folks have found an arrangement that works for them, and then all this is just pesky.

    But rather than actually go deeper, the conversation is short-stopped at a point, where some people are called out as “not getting it” and another side is the conclusion. And lots of hand-wringing and drama and I boycott you, I call you out, and all that. That last bit is what indeed isn’t worthy of a skeptical community. I completely agree with a few female atheists who have said that skepticism and feminism are closely related. Yes they are. But we abandon quite a bit of skepticism here to just tell a certain story but not actually engage with it.

  • qwertyuiop

    Women being naturally wary, as a result of experience and/or biology, ISN’T the same thing as asserting that ‘all men are rapists’.

    I’m a little disappointed that so many seem to need to have this ‘nuance’ explained to them.

    Let’s say that X is naturally wary of black people because some of them commit crimes.

    Naturally wary of Muslims because some of them commit acts of terrorism.

    Naturally wary of women because some are gold diggers.

    Those three things are deemed very inappropriate by our society. X would be painted as a bad person and would be blasted with all kind of insults like, racist, Islamophobic, sexist, etc.

    Now, according to many comments I’ve read about this in the last couple days:

    X is naturally wary of men because some commit acts of rape.

    is perfectly acceptable.

  • Grifter

    @Hitch: Well said.

    @Cortex: I’m going to nitpick a word you use. I don’t generally like to nitpick, but this is an exception. You said I was “mansplaining”. Mansplaining was specifically created to be a sexist word. We had a had a word that worked fine, and was not sexist, “apologist”, but mansplaining was invented specifically to denigrate a position espoused by a male without addressing his points by equating it to empty rhetoric. That is not fair in the context of debate, nor is it anything but sexism. That is why I called you a hypocrite.

    And while that behavior was creepy TO RW, it may not be creepy to others. There is DEFINITELY a subjective element, and Hitch raises very important points. I am bothered by the idea that this dude is being demonized for what was at worst (as far as we know, again, RW never mentioned any threatening behavior or directly misogynistic attitude) social ineptitude. I refuse to see social awkwardness as an ethical failing. I have never once said he did the right thing, only that it is unfair to ascribe malice without any evidence, and stated that RW, in my opinion, seems likely to exaggerate to make a point. This assessment on my part is not because she’s a woman, this is because of her actions and words.

  • I, too, have an opinion!

    Re: Cheng Vang

    And I would think that if you are trying to educate people about sexual abuse (as a public speaker and advocate) the first step is to not yell, cuss, and accuse people of being misogynist/rape sympathizer the moment any dissenting views come out of their mouth. No one is going to agree 100% with you on every single point, that does not mean they don’t understand the issue and automatically make them misogynists.

    The thing is, it’s a two-way street. Understand that a lot of the people who may be taking what seem to be extreme positions have been down this road before. They’ve had to explain, time and again, some of the unique challenges that people with fewer intersections of privilege have to face. And, for the most part, the response they get isn’t a measured attempt to really engage with them. Rather, they’re faced with an apparent legion of self-assured commenters who are very happy to try to dismantle their position. That’s frustrating and the relative anonymity of the internet doesn’t help to keep things calm.

    We’re all skeptics here, but it looks like people are only applying their skeptical toolkit to one side of the argument. People are, of course, welcome to challenge new paradigms that threaten the status quo, but we ought as well to be just as critical of our own ways of thinking. What could have been a great opportunity for self-reflection has degenerated into a polarizing battle between those who have taken a position skeptical of the status quo, and those who seem convinced that the status quo here is just fine, thank you very much, and can we talk about something else now?

    What about all of those women who doesn’t agree with the EG incident? What about the rape victims who doesn’t agree with the EG incident?

    They have every right to hold their opinions and have their unique take on situations like this. They’re also welcome to express themselves. But they need to be mindful, particularly if they’re committed to the broader cause of gendered social justice, that their comments might be used by some to justify the dismissal of concerns like Ms. Watson’s.

  • meko

    I’ve given this a bit of thought, and maybe this will help understand why women are on their guard and sometimes feel like prey at specifically atheist events.

    When I went to my first atheist meetup in a pub, the #1 conversational topic introduced by the men I talked to was the color of my eyes and their relative prettiness. Other topics frequently introduced were how I got there (cab, bike, car, etc.) and how I like to work out. This happened over 10 times in a row in one night. This occurred when I initiated conversations on other topics and when men approached me. Each man I talked to was probably innocently trying to compliment me and establish a connection with the best of intentions, but the conversation was boring, repetitive and not what I came there for.

    Months later, I went to another (not explicitly atheist) event with strangers. The topics there included atheism, the role of religion in society and how one may act to push back upon it, the merits of privatization, homeopathy and other forms of woo and currently running artistic events in the city. There was an explicit message in the group that people were respect customary American levels of personal distance and refrain from touch without permission. This was a BDSM/swinger meetup.

    Maybe it is all a matter of gender balance. I don’t know. But I do know that my safety, my perception of safety, and my individual thoughts were not a factor in the majority of atheist events that I attended. There was something different about these events from everything I’d gone to in the past five years. I felt like prey.

  • Brad

    I didn’t like this conversation at first because it seems way to close to trying to figure out what someone meant by what they said or didn’t say without enough data to understand for sure exactly what they really meant and that’s one of the things that bothers me about religion. After a couple days though, I love the fact that it is being discussed at all because I don’t think it would be if this had been a Christian asking a Christian to have coffee and talk about God. Even if the Christian had just given a speach about not asking women for sex while in an elevator at 4am and on the way to bed, I think it would still have to be interpreted by the Christian as a situation where God put someone in the elevator who needs help and even if they had a feeling it was an inappropriate advance, they couldn’t know for sure what was in the creepy guys heart. Freethink away everybody:)

  • I, too, have an opinion!

    Re: Hitch

    The story is roughly that Rebecca is right to say what she says (true), that hitting on someone in an enclosed space is problematic and induces fears of predatory behaviors (true). The solution is roughly “don’t do it”.

    From the rest of your post, I understand that by “it” you mean “approach women”. If I’ve misread you, then I’d welcome clarification.

    If I haven’t misread you, then I think you’ve gone and taken far too broad a rule, or at least one that has insufficient granularity to be useful. We don’t have to feel like we can’t approach women. Rather, we should always consider context before approaching anybody, really. Consider the people, place, time, and message content with a view to understanding how our actions (speech being an action) might affect the other person. It’s not enough to say, “I’d be okay with it, so it must be okay,” because neither you nor I nor anyone else exists as a sort of default template of human experience.

  • Grifter

    @I, too, have an opinion!:

    “The thing is, it’s a two-way street.” Certainly. “Understand that a lot of the people who may be taking what seem to be extreme positions have been down this road before. They’ve had to explain, time and again, some of the unique challenges that people with fewer intersections of privilege have to face. And, for the most part, the response they get isn’t a measured attempt to really engage with them. Rather, they’re faced with an apparent legion of self-assured commenters who are very happy to try to dismantle their position. That’s frustrating and the relative anonymity of the internet doesn’t help to keep things calm.” — What happened to you in a previous debate does not justify bad behavior in a current debate.

    @meko: You keep bringing up your experiences. I don’t want to ignore your concerns, and they are valid concerns. I don’t think anyone here is disagreeing that there are a lot of problems at atheist meetups. Please don’t confuse disagreement about a specific instance and the aftermath of that instance with disagreement about the concept. I do think you raise an interesting point re: the BDSM/Swingers. That is an organization that would likely literally disappear without women, hence the clear personal boundaries etc. In an atheist group I agree that it is easy for the men not to really notice the lack of women, and not realize it is due to their behavior. That is a bad thing. I also think, once again, that many do not give the benefit of the doubt to these men whose behavior is questionable but not provably bad. This doesn’t mean the behavior was totally great, but that they should not necessarily be demonized. Regardless of them, though, the fact that it bothers you is still an issue to be addressed, and a way to let these people know what TO do seems in order.

    A previous thread had a poster who asked for suggestions. What would we all say to coming up with a detailed Code of Conduct? One that includes provisions such as requiring 1 minute staggered departure times? Granted, not every group would sign on to a convoluted system that has a lot of rules, but it would give us all a basis to go on, and give less reason to give the benefit of the doubt?

    Because it’s that benefit of the doubt that causes a lot of fights. It seems to many men that some women seem unwilling to give it to others while demanding it for themselves. I think if we could legitimately create rules (even seemingly stupid ones like the colored stickers, which seem ridiculous but could easily work), it would give the genuinely clueless a guide and would show up the truly bad apples.

  • Grifter

    Oh, also @I, too, there is a problem with requiring people to be perceptive: it will not work. EG likely thought about context and concluded he was behaving appropriately (even prefacing his comments in an attempt to have them not be taken in a poor light). Do you think he did the wrong thing on purpose?

  • Hitch

    @I, too, have an opinion!:

    Well there are a few things. For one “We (men) don’t have to feel like we can’t approach women.” misses what I go for. A crucial point I make is that guys really do not have a choice. It is not only that we don’t have to feel bad about approaching, it is that realistically given the current pattern we really don’t have a lot of alternatives.

    But you raise a point I want to tackle directly.

    Where is the line between creepiness and non-creepiness? What advances are appropriate?

    See a woman can think it is OK to be approached in an elevator, and in fact a few women have spoken to this. So who be the judge? Who draws those lines?

    This is not an easy question and in fact it has not been resolve. So would it have been less creepy outside the elevator or was it creepy that she got hit on at all at the conference? Some women have articulated that any casual sex requires that women are seen as sex object?

    You see how that “we don’t have to feel bad” thing is complicated here. I actually don’t think we are going to resolve the “creepy” line universally. It is in the eye of the beholder to some extent. People are fine to completely reject casual sex. People are fine to feel creeped out in one situation or another. The complicated turf is how to negotiate that space, so that everybody can actually have the kinds of things that work for them, but that also has to include people who don’t have those views.

  • I, too, have an opinion!

    Re: Grifter

    What happened to you in a previous debate does not justify bad behavior in a current debate.

    And a tone argument is essentially a logical fallacy, so you can’t claim any kind of argumentative high ground. I didn’t want to jump straight to that because I thought that you might be willing to set aside that particular argument with a bit of explanation, but I guess not.

    Oh, also @I, too, there is a problem with requiring people to be perceptive: it will not work. EG likely thought about context and concluded he was behaving appropriately (even prefacing his comments in an attempt to have them not be taken in a poor light). Do you think he did the wrong thing on purpose?

    No, I think he was working with imperfect and incomplete information. Going forward, anyone who’s seen this rigmarole should have better information, and should be able to govern themselves accordingly. And, of course, people will still screw up. But ideally those mistakes become learning experiences for a wide swath of people, and we move forward, slightly older and wiser

  • Grifter

    @I, too

    Your comment seemed to be justifying anger and hostility and sexist words based on the fact that some people have had previous debates that went poorly. If that’s not what you were trying to do, then clearly I misunderstood. What WERE you justifying then?

    “No, I think he was working with imperfect and incomplete information. Going forward, anyone who’s seen this rigmarole should have better information, and should be able to govern themselves accordingly. And, of course, people will still screw up. But ideally those mistakes become learning experiences for a wide swath of people, and we move forward, slightly older and wiser”
    I agree with that sentiment. I think the argument here is not about learning from mistakes, though. Many people on here have implied that his lack of perception was a moral failing, and that anyone who disagrees with RW is a misogynist. I don’t think those are fair arguments, do you?

  • Self proclaimed atheist feminist saddened by EG-gate

    What bothers me about this whole episode is that everyone is accusing whosoever is the “other” in their eyes of being privileged, while overlooking any privilege they themselves have had, thereby shutting down any chance of a dialogue. RD is saying RW has the privilege of being a woman living in a western country, RW is saying RD is privileged in being a wealthy white male, SM is saying RW was privileged in having been the keynote speaker, most of us are saying that the elevator guy consciously or unconsciously used his white male privilege in propositioning RW… so on and so forth. And I think all of the above is true. We have all had some privileges in our short lives… some more than others. But as human beings, we should still be able to empathize with others with a different set of life experiences. Sexism in the atheist community… and more broadly speaking, in society at large, is a serious issue. When Rebacca Watson first aired her opinions in her video blog, I had hoped this would be an opportunity for people to debate this without calling each other heinous names and without using hyperbolic language. Sadly, something very different happened. Thank you Hemant for your measured posts on this.

  • Cheng Vang

    The thing is, it’s a two-way street.

    Exactly, you say this and then go on to argue for a one-way street.

    Remember that the majority of those criticizing RW is not criticizing EG incident. They are criticizing her abuse of power as a speaker. Many are criticizing how many big names in the atheist community is trying to wrongly defend her. They are challenging the status quo that the atheist community is ran by a ‘clique’ of people. They are voicing their opinion about the way a supposed leader or advocate conduct them self in public. They are voicing their opinion that they don’t think that if you want to build a community, to inspire and attract young minds, to educate people on pertinent issues; the best way to go about it is what RW did. That is all, most of those arguing against RW is saying that while keeping EG incident separate.

    You want someone to learn? To make a point? To inspire and educate them? The best way is not by shouting at them, calling them names, and cussing in every damn sentence that you can. You don’t misrepresent them in public where they cannot respond.

    In short, RW criticizers are merely saying that if you want to be a teacher, don’t yell and call your students names when they ask a question in public. EG incident is another issue. These are the voices of reason that goes unanswered, most people on the pro RW side don’t answer these criticisms, they derail back to EG incident.

    They have every right to hold their opinions and have their unique take on situations like this. They’re also welcome to express themselves. But they need to be mindful, particularly if they’re committed to the broader cause of gendered social justice, that their comments might be used by some to justify the dismissal of concerns like Ms. Watson’s.

    Really? So men get no say in any of this because if their views dissent from others then they are being dismissive, but women do, but even when they do they have to be mindful?

    What is Watson’s concern? Rape?

    Or creepiness?

    Maybe Watson should be mindful of the people who did get rape in elevator before, because using an example where she was asked to coffee at 4am in the morning, to which she declined, and the guy presumably just walked away, nothing else happened, isn’t very mindful of the rape victims. Maybe such an example is dismissive of the real atrocities endured by others.

  • I, too, have an opinion!

    Re: Hitch

    Where is the line between creepiness and non-creepiness? What advances are appropriate?

    See a woman can think it is OK to be approached in an elevator, and in fact a few women have spoken to this. So who be the judge? Who draws those lines?

    This is not an easy question and in fact it has not been resolve.

    I think this line of enquiry misses the forest for the trees. The idea isn’t so much that we need a long list of “correct behaviours” for different situational permutations. What might be okay for one person in one case may not be okay for another person in a similar case. Each situation has to be taken on its own facts. I tend to err, when dealing with people unfamiliar to me, on the side of caution and discretion because I don’t know what kinds of things might set them off. If I know someone better, then I have a better sense of their boundaries and it’s pretty easy to respect those.

    We as human beings are social animals. Evolutionary processes and social development have given us a pretty extensive toolkit for navigating social interactions. Sometimes we get miscues, but as I indicated to Grifter above, a mistake is okay, so long as we treat it as a learning experience and try not to do it again.

  • http://skepticon.org Katie Hartman

    JoshBA wrote:

    I take great offense at being labeled a rapist because of my gender. Don’t try to deny that is what every single person who claims there was the threat of rape implied in that situation is saying. If you didn’t consider men to be rapists, there was no threat and you are just being hysterically silly. Yet you are being serious. You really think there was a threat implied. You really think it is likely the man propositioning a woman in an elevator was a rapist. Fuck you!

    To quote crowepps, from the previous thread:

    I am not saying that any man could be a rapist, a statement which is not true because men with empathy and compassion would never rape a woman, but instead that the woman cannot tell which category the man is in.

    Some men are rapists. Some men will back off they hear “no!” at high volume, but will deploy harassment, forceful touching, and coercive manipulation of the situation right up until that point. Some men are pricks, but harmless pricks. Some men don’t particularly care about women’s issues, but would never dream of hurting anyone. Some men go out of their way to understand women’s diversity of experiences and make the world a safer and more comfortable place for everyone.

    Which of these should I assume about you if I don’t know you? None of them. But if you start displaying behavior similar to what I’ve seen from men on the darker end of that spectrum, it is in the best interest of my safety to be wary of you. Ignoring signs of a potential threat carries much higher risks than falsely identifying a potential threat.

    If you’re asking me to assume the best of every man I come into contact with, regardless of any red flags he might display, you’re asking me to put my safety at risk. Is my desire to be safe less important than your desire to not be viewed warily? I don’t think so.

  • Hitch

    I, too, have an opinion!: I’m fine for you to hold those views. But realize that you have put the discussion exactly back to the superficial level that I criticized.

    But I actually think you are dodging the point. You say there is a lesson to be learned. Yes perhaps, but it is not that clear cut. Some people are OK to be approached in an elevator and say no. Some are not. Some will think you objectify them if you think they are attractive, some will not. I have already said that people propose a vague solution, you just reiterated it “exercise discretion”. But notice how it actually does not really address even the surface, let a lone all the underlying stuff. I already said that in the post you responded to.

  • ewan

    Is my desire to be safe less important than your desire to not be viewed warily? I don’t think so.

    So does that justify discrimination aagainst black people by people who feel nervous around them, and if not, why not?

  • Siobhan

    I haven’t read all the comments, but I read a lot of the starting ones, and the exact details and context of the conversation in the elevator MATTER. But they keep being ignored.

    RW was in a bar drinking and talking with people she knew casually until 4AM. At which time she announced she was going to bed. She left, and was followed by EG into the elevator. He said he’d like to get to know her better and invited her to his room for coffee. She declined. Went to her own room, slept, went home eventually. Did a video about how this situation made her feel uncomfortable, and suggested as a tip to males at conferences that this wasn’t a great thing to do.

    Most women are raped by people they know in some social context or another. Most women are raped when there has been alcohol (or some other altering substance) consumed some or most of an evening. Most women are raped when they are vulnerable and alone with their rapist. In an elevator there is nowhere to run or get away if someone wishes you harm.

    Because of these facts about rape, most women (especially those who have been raped or almost raped before) tend to have heightened sensitivity in situations where one or more of these factors exist:

    1) they have been drinking
    2) the male approaching them has been drinking
    3) they are in an unfamiliar place
    4) they are in a confined place with no easy escape route

    It is in our own best interest to avoid these situations, but sometimes they are unavoidable.

    No, RW had no idea what was on EG’s mind, and clearly she didn’t run around the elevator screaming. She just declined his offer of coffee in his hotel room. But it still made her uncomfortable BECAUSE of the above facts. If he HAD been a rapist, she could very well be in a hospital right now, and we’d be reading the newspaper and tsking and some of you would be saying “why did she get in the elevator alone with a guy that late at night after she’d been drinking?” Because, you know, it’d be her fault.

    One in six women in the US will have a completed or attempted rape during their life time. That means you are related to one or more women who have been or will be raped or sexually assaulted. You work with women who have been raped. Every conference you go to where there’s more than six women, there’s a woman there who has been raped or had an attempted rape or sexual assault. You may not know who they are because maybe they haven’t felt safe enough around you to tell you, or they don’t feel like talking about it at all. So you have no idea if the woman you’re talking to has been sexually assaulted, but if you’ve spoken to more than six females in the last week, then chances are at least one of them has been raped or sexually assaulted, and YOU HAVE NO IDEA about it.

    Additionally:

    For every one of those women, there’s a rapist/attacker. SOMEONE raped them. Ok, so it wasn’t you, but I bet you know (probably casually, maybe not so casually) SOMEONE who has actually raped or attempted to rape a woman. Think about that for a moment. Every woman in the US has to live every day with the statistically high chance that at least one person they know in some way or other is probably a rapist or has committed a sexual assault on someone.

    SOMEONE is committing these rapes and sexual assaults. It’s not just ONE someone. There isn’t some slavering, hulking, satyr with a raging, constant erection and curling ram’s horns out there committing every single rape that’s happening. The men committing these rapes look like every other guy in the world. They work, they have families, they hang out with their buddies. There is no mark on them that tells women they are sexual predators.

    For any male a woman knows, she has no idea if he is one of those sexual predators. Even if he seems like a really nice guy and other people really like him, he could very well have raped or sexually assaulted someone before. The point here is SHE DOESN’T KNOW!

    Women have to be cautious because when they’re not, seriously awful things could happen to them. They have to evaluate the entire situation they’re in. Many of them who live in large urban areas, and who work until after dark have to think through the scenario every day, sometimes several times about the best escape route if someone attacks. They need to be aware of their surroundings. They need to try and avoid situations like getting into an elevator with just one guy they don’t know (instead of, say, several people, which is usually safer). And they have to balance all that against various offers or flirts that come up in all these different contexts. Do they say something and risk offending or provoking the person? Or do they keep quiet, try to offer a pleasant, neutral response, and just wait for the doors to open so they can get away? There’s a constant evaluation of body language going on, both consciously and unconsciously.

    Men don’t have to deal with this level of risk every day of their lives. Sure, they have other risks, but not this one. They don’t have to weigh the question either consciously or unconsciously “is this woman someone who takes ‘no’ badly?”.

    Do all women have to be as cautious as this? Of course not. Plenty of women live in situations where they simply don’t have these same concerns on a daily basis. They might have other concerns, other situations to deal with. But the specter of potential rape is one that all women have hanging around them, whether they are aware of it or not. Because rape and attempted rape are frighteningly common occurrences.

    All I think most of us are asking, and reasonably so, is for men to be a bit sensitive to this reality of our lives. Don’t act like this facet of our lives doesn’t exist, or like it’s all in our heads, or like we should just KNOW that YOU aren’t a going to attack. We don’t know that. We can’t know that. The fact that one in six women gets raped or sexually assaulted in her lifetime is evidence that at least SOME of the decent-seeming men we meet every day ARE rapists.

  • Zhuge

    Is my desire to be safe less important than your desire to not be viewed warily? I don’t think so.

    So does that justify discrimination aagainst black people by people who feel nervous around them, and if not, why not?

    No it doesn’t. First off, feeling nervous around black people suggests a fear based not on facts but on stereotypes about criminiality, made more plausible by a justice system that is slanted against minorities(though likely in many cases, unintentionally).

    Secondly, even if there were a good reason to think black people were somehow more likely to commit crimes than others, it would likely not be by any factor so great as in the gender divide of rape(men raping women and raping men makes up 99% of rape, leaving about 1% for woman on man and woman on woman.) In that sense, there is no pragmatic reason.

    Finally, since men are in most cases in life given the benefit of the doubt and treated like human beings, there is an additional incentive not to be more wary of black people than others, since there is a history of discrimination and cruel stereotypes of black people that carries its own weight and should be taken into consideration.

    So it is sensible to consider that any man might be a rapist(as it is sensible to think anyone might be a mugger), but it is not sensible to think a black man is more likely to be a rapist or mugger, and even if it were, we would have additional reasons to try to avoid racism due to the harm it is likely to inflict.

    Which isn’t to say that being prejudged as a potential rapist is not harmful. I think that it is and have felt it on occasion. But I recognize that we are dealing with a brutal reality, and I would rather my feelings sting for a moment than that a woman should feel unsafe for a lifetime. Similarly, it’s better I be scared for a moment than that a black person suffer a lifetime of casual racism.

    Or so I think!

  • I, too, have an opinion!

    Re: Cheng

    Remember that the majority of those criticizing RW is not criticizing EG incident.

    That is your take on the situation, but I’m not convinced that it is borne out by the facts. Then again, I’ve been more interested–and have consequently engaged much more extensively–in the elevator incident debates, so my data set as it were is probably suspect. At the end of the day, we probably both have some confirmation bias happening, so maybe let’s leave the issue of argument popularity aside. Unless you really feel like going through and cataloguing the dozens of blog posts and likely thousands of comments.

    You want someone to learn? To make a point? To inspire and educate them? The best way is not by shouting at them, calling them names, and cussing in every damn sentence that you can. You don’t misrepresent them in public where they cannot respond.

    This reads like a strawman argument. I don’t know exactly what Ms. Watson said in her aside about Ms. McGraw. I wasn’t at the convention, much less the talk. I have read about Ms. Watson’s comments, however, and even Ms. McGraw doesn’t claim that she was shouted at or called names. There’s no mention of cursing, though to be perfectly honest, since we’re all internet denizens here I have to wonder how many people would have trouble with the occasional “fuck” or “bullshit” tossed about in conversation. So I’m not sure where you’re getting all that from.

    So men get no say in any of this because if their views dissent from others then they are being dismissive, but women do, but even when they do they have to be mindful?

    I’m honestly not sure what say men are supposed to get here. Some women say that being propositioned in elevators by men unknown to them makes them feel uncomfortable. Nobody, man or woman, gets to tell the uncomfortable women that they don’t know their own feelings or that their reports of their own feelings are incorrect. That’s patently unreasonable. I guess men can say that they’d prefer not to be deprived of any opportunity to hit on a woman. If that’s the case, it seems pretty obvious to me that men get to make the sacrifice, because something Zhuge wrote earlier applies:

    Not because it’s the law or I don’t have the right to or because I feel guilty or because I need to make up for my privilege, but because it is what would make other people most happy and costs me little if anything at all.

    I mean, really. Given all the other places it’s more appropriate to do that sort of thing, is it so hard to refrain for a couple of minutes so the other party needn’t feel trapped, if that is something they are disposed towards?

    Quick edit:

    What is Watson’s concern? Rape?

    Or creepiness?

    I think if you revisit Ms. Watson’s video, and review her subsequent comments, you’ll find that her concern is trying to make the atheist/skeptic community as attractive as possible to as many people as possible who have similar views on the world and how best to engage with it.

  • Andy

    “He said “don’t take this the wrong way,…”

    That worked out well.

    Hemant, do you think it’s possible Elevator Guy feels the same way about the reaction to his faux pas as you do about the reaction to something you did that now sees you labelled a “sexist paternalist”?

    If some women think your opinions and statements make you a sexist paternalist, do those women need to reconsider their views or do you need to think twice before expressing your opinions on feminist issues? Note that the actual intent of your comments may not be nearly as relevant as how some perceive them.

    I can’t see how I can express any opinion on the “elevator incident” as I didn’t witness it and know nothing of either participant in it – though I’d have to say “4am???” That might have been the epitome of bad timing.

  • I, too, have an opinion!

    Re: Hitch

    But realize that you have put the discussion exactly back to the superficial level that I criticized.

    I disagree with your characterization of this issue as superficial. It is an immediate issue, yes. And it points to underlying issues, yes. I think you’re right to point to the gender dynamics at play here, and you’re right to want to address those. I don’t think, however, that this is a case where you can just bore to the centre and expect to accomplish anything. At the very least, you need to focus in part on mitigating and managing the immediate symptoms, because the process of final treatment is long and difficult. People have a limited capacity to pursue change without any immediate and tangible benefit. Indeed, I think this sort of thing is most effectively dealt with by slow, incremental change that addresses immediate issues with a view to a better underlying paradigm.

  • ewan

    EG likely thought about context and concluded he was behaving appropriately (even prefacing his comments in an attempt to have them not be taken in a poor light).

    Indeed; this is actually quite important. If you’re going to say something that can be taken two ways, then you need to be clear which way you mean it. Asking someone back for coffee could actually be an invitation for coffee, or it could be a euphemistic invitation for sex. If someone prefaces the invitation with “Don’t take this the wrong way….” it’s a bit of a hint that they actually don’t mean the ‘wrong way’, they mean the other way.

    At which point this never was an incident of sexual objectification, it was an incident of coffee.

  • Grifter

    @Zhuge: “No it doesn’t. First off, feeling nervous around black people suggests a fear based not on facts but on stereotypes about criminiality, made more plausible by a justice system that is slanted against minorities(though likely in many cases, unintentionally).”

    It is not “stereotypes”…minorities are statistically more likely to be convicted of crimes. The justice system is also slanted against men…but no one argues that men aren’t being stereotyped fairly, despite studies showing that the arrest numbers are not entirely reflective of the world. But race is different, and somehow it’s not that minorities are more likely to commit more crimes (likely due to socioeconomic issues), it’s that the system is broken, so we shouldn’t use the stastics we have?

    “even if it were, we would have additional reasons to try to avoid racism due to the harm it is likely to inflict.” Ah, so racism is different. And sexism is different so long as it’s against women. But sexism against men’s A-Ok. Gotcha.

    @I, too: I’m not entirely sure what your point is, because you have to admit that SOME people wouldn’t be bothered by EGs actions, and if we therefore argue not that he did something objectively wrong, but that he misread signals, then what he did was wrong in the sense he misread them, and we should all learn from that, but why keep attacking him? What he did was not wrong EXCEPT in his misreading, would you agree? And if we all agree that he misread, is that not all the fault we have for him?

  • twirlgrl

    There seem to be a lot of people confusing “potential sexual assault” with “likely sexual assault”. The good guys are indistinguishable from the bad guys and while we know that most men do not rape, some men DO rape and if a woman wants to decrease her chances of being raped, she needs to be cautious and aware in case the particular man she is dealing with is one of the few who does.

  • I, too, have an opinion!

    Re: Grifter

    Sorry, there are a lot of comments and I seem to have missed yours here.

    Your comment seemed to be justifying anger and hostility and sexist words based on the fact that some people have had previous debates that went poorly. If that’s not what you were trying to do, then clearly I misunderstood. What WERE you justifying then?

    I wasn’t really trying to justify anything. More to offer an explanation that might help you empathize with those people whose tone you disapprove of so that you might forgive and carry on.

    I agree with that sentiment. I think the argument here is not about learning from mistakes, though. Many people on here have implied that his lack of perception was a moral failing, and that anyone who disagrees with RW is a misogynist. I don’t think those are fair arguments, do you?

    I have seen quite a few comments that seem to be taking the position that this ought to be a learning experience (here, here, here, here, and I’m leaving my own posts out for obvious reasons). I haven’t seen as many comments that have gone the moral failing and misogyny route. Since you’ve evidently been engaging with those kinds of posts more than I have, I’d welcome a few examples, if you can dig them up.

  • Cheng Vang

    Nobody, man or woman, gets to tell the uncomfortable women that they don’t know their own feelings or that their reports of their own feelings are incorrect.

    And who is doing that? Certainly not Stef. I may not agree with everything Stef wrote in her blog response to the incident, but I never read anywhere in there in which she said that RW was not entitled to what she felt. From my reading of it while I partially agreed with Stef but largely disagreed with her, she showed no intent to belittle RW. No intent to marginalize her or shut her up. If anything it sounded as if she was but a student, a pupil, an open minded individual making a statement or asking a legitimate question (no matter how wrong), and she was given the full Kent Hovind creationist treatment. Just because you can treat everyone like Kent Hovind, doesn’t mean that you should as a prominent figure in a community. Especially when that person is an open minded individual, someone aspiring in the same community that you are in. Start treating everyone in the community who has not taken an advanced upper division Evolutionary Biology course a creationist when they say something wrong about taxonomy, and you’re going to find your community very thin.

    so maybe let’s leave the issue of argument popularity aside.

    Indeed and that is why I want to focus only on what Stef and Rebecca said. Remember that Stef in her response isn’t calling Rebecca out about the EG incident, but how she was treated during the presentation and how it was unjustified of RW to abuse her power as a speaker and call Stef a misogynist sympathizer. So can we focus on this instead?

    This reads like a strawman argument. I don’t know exactly what Ms. Watson said in her aside about Ms. McGraw. I wasn’t at the convention, much less the talk. I have read about Ms. Watson’s comments, however, and even Ms. McGraw doesn’t claim that she was shouted at or called names. There’s no mention of cursing, though to be perfectly honest, since we’re all internet denizens here I have to wonder how many people would have trouble with the occasional “fuck” or “bullshit” tossed about in conversation. So I’m not sure where you’re getting all that from.

    My apologies if it sounded like I implied/said that RW did all of that. What I meant to say is that many prominent bloggers are using the ‘tone troll/naming names’ argument. Which is that basically, as long as you’re accurate, you get to yell and cuss at people. Sure you can, but is that the way you want to run the show that is about encouraging young minds and educating people? Given the premise that someone is wrong, do you really think public humiliation (given that premise) and lumping them with creationists/antivaxer/misogynist/etc to be the best way in educating OPEN MINDED individuals?

    I think if you revisit Ms. Watson’s video, and review her subsequent comments, you’ll find that her concern is trying to make the atheist/skeptic community as attractive as possible to as many people as possible who have similar views on the world and how best to engage with it.

    BINGO!

    And that is exactly the same reason why people are criticizing Watson. If you want to build a community, to attract others, to inspire other, you don’t conduct yourself like how Watson did. You don’t take time as a prominent figure in a keynote speech and lump someone with comments advocating rape, you don’t unjustly call them a rapist/misogynist sympathizer, you don’t abuse your power to make someone sit there and listen to you with no way to rebut. Why do you think so many students there are being critical of RW?

    They do not agree that the best way to inspire and attract people into the community in which they are a part of, is by a prominent individual within the community treating others like RW did. RW didn’t break any laws, sure, but it is not what the people who are there thinks that the community should stand for. If you lump everyone who disagree with you even a little on certain thing as a creationist, you’re going to find your ‘skeptic’ group to have thinned out quite a bit. Likewise, if you call everyone who disagree with something a ‘misogynist sympathizer’ and lump them in with rapist comments, especially a woman herself; you’re going to find not a lot of women want to come to your skeptic meetings.

  • I, too, have an opinion!

    Re: Grifter

    I’m not entirely sure what your point is, because you have to admit that SOME people wouldn’t be bothered by EGs actions, and if we therefore argue not that he did something objectively wrong, but that he misread signals, then what he did was wrong in the sense he misread them, and we should all learn from that, but why keep attacking him? What he did was not wrong EXCEPT in his misreading, would you agree? And if we all agree that he misread, is that not all the fault we have for him?

    I don’t think “misreading signals” and “doing something objectively wrong” are mutually exclusive categories. I’m a consequentialist, so I’m interested in outcomes. In this case his actions had the outcome of making someone rather uncomfortable. Discomfort is a sort of negative outcome, so at the end of the day, Elevator Guy did something a little bit objectively wrong. That’s my position. I can’t speak to the positions of anyone else, but for my part I have no desire to attack Elevator Guy. All I want to do is continue Ms. Watson’s original project of using his misstep as a teachable moment.

  • Lyra

    I’m having some trouble here. Let’s remove rape entirely from the table because lots of people are having an issue with this (I don’t know that it’s right to do this, but let’s do it).

    Instead, let’s say we’re talking about a man who groped a woman in an attempt to initiate sex. The woman told the man no, he backed off willingly. This groping caused no harm physically. No bruise, no broken bones, no bleeding, no disease. Health is 100% conserved. Now let’s say she went out and said, “Guys, don’t grope women.” Immediately upon doing this, men point out that she wasn’t hurt at all. Other men point out that they would love to be groped by a woman, or bring up examples where they groped a woman and the woman didn’t take offense, or even reacted positively. How would people like Richard Dawkins and the other nay-sayers respond to this? Would they assert that the groped woman had no reason to complain, that there were people out there who had suffered “real” assaults, that the man hadn’t done anything wrong?

    Now, I’m not trying to say that groping is equal to what the elevator guy did. Clearly it is not. BUT we say that groping is bad because it makes the groped individual uncomfortable and/or feel bad. If this kind of thing makes women feel bad (and most women I’ve talked to agree that the elevator man made a bad move, including the women who think Watson overreacted), then do we really need to be running around trying to justify our feelings? Or can we just say it’s not a good idea to do something that makes someone feel bad?

  • Claudia

    I can feel the soul I don’t believe in wither at the thought of reading 208 comments, especially considering that most comment threads on this subject have varying sorts of negative effects (sadness, anger, exhaustion etc.) so I’m sorry if I cover some ground that’s been covered.

    Thanks for the post Hemant. Very level-headed, and I agree on just about all counts. I would add that for anyone who thinks there isn’t really a problem, think of it this way. Every single time the issue of women in the community comes up, it blows up. That in itself shows that there most certainly is a problem. Even if you believe that it’s all a bunch of whiny, childish ladies getting their panties in a bunch, you cannot deny that the perception of a problem exists within a significant part of the community. You may think it’s a misperception, but I would suggest that just thinking that will not make that misperception go away. You have to address it in a way that is convincing to the group that feels that way (and you have to stop to consider if maybe it’s not a mass-hallucination and maybe there IS a problem) unless you are willing to see the community continue to appear as a hostile place to many women.

  • Grifter

    @I, too: Which is great. But what are you teaching? No one can be psychic, so misreading will happen. You can say he did something “objectively wrong” by looking at the results it that’s how you define it, I suppose, but as regards to fault, how can he be faulted if he did do the best he could? (not that he necessarily did, but if we’re giving him the benefit of the doubt). So if this boils down to just “hey, let’s all try to be better about reading signals”, then I think the argument about that is over, because we all agree? While there are still discussions about RW’s actions towards Stef, and arguments about whether its ever okaky to say you think someone may have overreacted to a situation, and even about the idea that RW may have overreacted. And about what to do to keep women from feeling uncomfortable at atheist gatherings. (because 1 innocent mistake, multiplied 1000000 times, can become inadvertent harassment…you can’t get mad at the 10000th guy, in my opinion, because it’s not his fault per se, but you can say that something needs to be done)

  • I, too, have an opinion!

    Re: Cheng

    I don’t know what to say. I understand that you and a lot of other people feel that Ms. Watson’s choice of venue to air her disagreements was inappropriate. I understand that people see a relevant power differential between Ms. Watson and Ms. McGraw. I understand that it would be difficult to be in the audience while a prominent figure in your community is quoting something you said as “parrotting [...] misogynistic thought” to quote Ms. Watson, and to see yourself lumped in with some pretty awful miscreants. I understand that it would be especially difficult if you felt that you didn’t have an opportunity to respond in kind.

    BUT

    Talk of the “Kent Hovind treatment” is cartoonish. Unless you have evidence to back up your claims, I suggest you back away from the hyperbole.

    I also think that Ms. Watson’s criticisms were legitimate on a theoretical and practical level. Anti-feminist men do tend to seize on statements by women that can undermine feminist positions. I don’t think it’s unreasonable, when speaking for an hour about sex and gender-related issues, to address a recent and ongoing debate within the community for a couple of minutes. I think it is good that Ms. Watson identified Ms. McGraw by name, put her words up for the audience to examine, and provided a URL to Ms. McGraw’s blog so people could judge for themselves. I also understand that it may be common practice, in academic circles at least, to have debates that cross from journals to conferences to blogs and beyond. I don’t think, as you and others do, that there are the same clear boundaries from venue to venue when debates happen. Finally, I think think that Ms. McGraw knew or ought to have known that Ms. Watson has a louder voice in the community, and that in taking a position opposed to hers, Ms. McGraw was inviting a response, and that she would have no control over the venue that response could be given.

    I also understand that it is basically inevitable, when dealing with issues related to sex and gender, that people will get worked up and feelings will be hurt. I still think that everyone ought to do what they can to keep the discussion civil and to respect other people as much as possible. All the same, these debates (about sex, race, and other axes of privilege and oppression) are too important to hobble with arcane rules and too much of a focus on avoiding hurt feelings. Just so we’re clear, this stands in marked contrast to something like elevator propositions, which I doubt are all that important to anyone in the great scheme of things. We need these debates. Nobody really needs to proposition someone on an elevator.

    So I guess I do know what to say. At the end of the day, I don’t think that what Ms. Watson did was more wrong than right. Was it the best thing? Maybe not. Should she have apologized once it became clear that she had caused some people distress? Maybe, but only because I tend to think that an apology is an easy way to extinguish a burning bridge. To sum up, I’m with Watson on this.

    That’s a lot more than I had planned to say on the subject. I don’t much feel like saying anything else about it, but it’s been nice talking to you.

  • http://massive-caffeine-consumption.blogspot.com/ Jen

    I don’t get it.
    I’m just gonna throw that out there and let it breathe, because in the end, that’s all that’s coming out of anyone’s mouth. I don’t get it. I wasn’t there, I don’t have level of eye contact, body language, context, previous encounters, level of game – what I have is this reasonably intelligent woman who has caused a shitstorm – because she could. Mostly, because she is a blogger.
    I’m gonna get blasted all over the place for lots of reasons, here. I am so incredibly new to the atheist “scene” or “movement” or whatever you would like to call it, and I’m getting so turned off by this whole thing (which you can take as a sexual comment or “joke”, if you wish, I have been known to embrace many forms of sarcasm).
    I had sympathy for RW, at first. I even briefly subscribed to that blog she’s on, because I have been looking for some sort of community of like-minded people, but if I wanted a community that flamed my ass off for disagreeing with something someone said, there are plenty of churches here in town for that (I’m in Colorado Springs, ya dig?).
    Sure, she was made to feel uncomfortable, and the place and time were unfortunate – but almost comical, if you’re an irony junkie, like myself – but she picked up the pieces of her shattered life and moved on. What’s making me a bit sick is that anyone who doesn’t agree with her is not allowed to just disagree with her. No, we weren’t there, we don’t know, we don’t get it…but if she didn’t want this to be held up to the scrutiny of the “masses” then DON’T F*CKING BLOG ABOUT IT.
    That’s not an option, though, is it?
    Now it’s this huge thing – and this person, who had, at first, a valid point about sexism and objectification, and whatever, just seems to be lashing out at people who disagree with her, up to and including Dawkins, which amuses me, because it’s irony, on a very base level – and because he may not “get it” but the underlying dismissive tone of his reply (WHY THE HELL AM I EVEN ADDRESSING THIS CRAP) is right. He sounds like nothing so much as a reprimanding, impatient parent. (Eat your damn sprouts, there are starving people in Africa.)
    No, I’m not even addressing what this dude did, I don’t even give a shit anymore. (Ok, except that I am gonna guess that if she had been remotely interested in this person that none of this would have happened. Yeah, I said it. Bring it.)
    I have avoided getting involved in so many causes, not because I don’t believe in the cause, but because of the people. I am starting to truly dislike people. I want so much to find a group of people I can just BE with, without having to worry about arguments like this. (Yeah,poor me, this is more like my blog now.) Instead, everyone is covered in their shield of labels – Feminist, Atheist, and apparently…MAN. (No, I’m not defending all of you, most of you are really stupid – who the hell follows a girl into an elevator, you troll?)
    This is ranty length, and I apologize for that, but not for my opinion. It’s just what I think, that doesn’t make it TRUE, and if this group of people doesn’t get how important that distinction is, I guess I should go join New Life now. Bygones.

  • ButchKitties

    No, RW had no idea what was on EG’s mind, and clearly she didn’t run around the elevator screaming. She just declined his offer of coffee in his hotel room. But it still made her uncomfortable BECAUSE of the above facts. If he HAD been a rapist, she could very well be in a hospital right now, and we’d be reading the newspaper and tsking and some of you would be saying “why did she get in the elevator alone with a guy that late at night after she’d been drinking?” Because, you know, it’d be her fault.

    (Bolding is mine.)

    To those suggesting that RW needs to “grow a pair” consider the level of victim-blaming that victims of sexual assault must contend with.

    Suppose you get a fancy new grill, and your neighbor expresses admiration for it. Later he comes over and steals the grill. The common reaction to this event would be: “Thieves are jerks! Why would he ever think it was okay to take your property?”

    Suppose you’re a woman sunbathing in your back yard and your neighbor expresses admiration for your body. In the evening he comes over on the pretense of needing to borrow something, forces his way inside your house, and rapes you. When you tell that story, people may condemn the neighbor’s behavior, but it’s also extremely likely they will also criticize you for letting him see you sunbathing, for opening the door to a man at night, for not preventing your own assault. The first reaction will question what you did wrong to allow the rape to happen.

    Women are constantly incentivized to treat every little come-on as a potential sexual assault. Because if that seemingly awkward, harmless man does happen to be a rapist, we will be the ones blamed for the rape.

    When I was 20 I went to a college party. I was followed around for a better part of the night by a guy who constantly told me how pretty I was. I did what many have suggested is the “right” response to being hit on, and told myself that I should feel flattered and that it wasn’t his fault that he was flattering me in a creepy way.

    He raped me later that night. When I tried to talk about it, the number one response I received was to be told all the things I did wrong that allowed it to happen.

    If I had openly criticized him for making me uncomfortable, I would have been a hysterical man-hating feminazi. And yet it’s still my fault that I was raped because I should have done more to protect myself. Either way it’s the woman’s fault.

  • I, too, have an opinion!

    Re: Grifter

    I’m glad that on the elevator issue we seem to be broadly in agreement. Just to clarify, though, it’s not just about reading signals. It’s also about understanding, for example, that not all women like the feeling they get when men behave in a way that communicates (intentionally or otherwise) a presumption of female sexual availability at all times. So things like propositioning someone in an elevator, or commenting on a woman’s attractiveness, or a number of other things that are largely coded as harmless for men and by men, might not be so harmless for some women. It’s about thinking outside your own box when you’re dealing with other people.

  • Hitch

    I disagree with your characterization of this issue as superficial.

    I don’t characterize the issue as superficial. Here is what I wrote in the post you initially responded to, in the very beginning of it:

    “See there is a very deep issue about gender in there. It is a very real issue. It’s about approaching, being approached, perspectives on how we see and treat each other, respective fears and causes that create that dynamic.”

    I’m NOT saying at all this is no issue, but I do critique that it is treated on a superficial level, it is not being addressed based on the causes, the dynamics, and the societal substrate.

    And I directly lament that the very way people argue it they actually prevent the deeper discourse on it.

    As for your point of mitigation let me again quote what I have already written elsewhere:

    “The point that conventions with large gender discrepancies are difficult places is well taken. In fact I would agree with folks who have argued that it probably is better to take the whole dating/party mess out of it, given the lop-sidedness. We want more women to be engaged, and if the experience is that desperate and socially inept guys just hit on your it is awful for the women and bad for the movement and yes any decent guy should not just stand by but tell the harassers to knock it off, or kick them out.”

    So in short, I am not at all against immediate remedies. In fact I give concrete steps. But none of that takes away from the points I make in the post you responded to.

    Look, I know you mean well, but really, you just assume what my position is, not engage with what I have articulated my position to be.

    But notice that we are still not talking about the topic I said would be worthwhile talking about, even though you concede they are important. We are still busy characterizing each other on how much we “get it” and how much we want to “fix it now”.

    So what do we do about the gender dynamics that underlies this?

  • Grifter

    ” It’s also about understanding, for example, that not all women like the feeling they get when men behave in a way that communicates (intentionally or otherwise) a presumption of female sexual availability at all times.”

    If he was NOT being intentional, then he may have been insensitive, but it’s not really his fault, he’s not psychic and didn’t know that’s how she’d take it. I’m all for trying to understand, don’t get me wrong, I just feel that sometimes when someone DOESN’T just get it, there’s this feeling that they’re just a jerk. I think your argument is more like poker: if you call a bluff, but then the opponent picks up a straight on the river, you made the wrong call, even though there was no way for you to know. There’s not fault there, really, just a learning experience. If that’s your argument, great! Others are making a different argument, though, which is part of the problem in some of our eyes. But if your point is as I described, I agree that this whole thing sucked. Hopefully EG learns from this, and I think there’s things about this we can all learn. Again, though, if we really give him the full benefit of the doubt, if he really was very polite and only meant what he said, and even specified “don’t take this the wrong way”, then she WAS reading into it things that weren’t there, and SHE is the one who was misinterpreting, becausae he wasn’t asking for sex, he was offering a tired woman coffee a chat. I know a lot of people see that as an impossibility, but considering that RW’s subsequent behavior, I can honestly say that I don’t find it incredibly hard to believe that she was just assuming he wanted sex. For all we know, EG is gay. Doesn’t change that in the broader perspective of atheist group problems women DO have to deal with it, so even if this, hypothetically WAS RW reading too much into it, I think the dialogue is important, both sides of it.

  • Obsrvantsrvant

    I have read through this thread, and am dumbstruck by how many seemingly intelligent people are at their worst arguing and articulating for predation of women, or at their least marginalizing those who have been in those type of encounters.

    I am active man in BDSM/swinger clubs myself, and can assure you there would be nothing more important than making sure all participants never felt violated or uncomfortable—whips and chains don’t make an appearance until agreed to.

    I feel like some men need the following advice (if it doesn’t apply to you, I apologize):

    If your A game is leading your date to an isolated dark place so you can “really let her know who you are”, you might be a sociopath.

    If you can, make a simple introduction and talk to a woman about what the group’s meeting was about. Impress her with your work within the group, an interesting blog, ANYTHING but her appearance—if she is attractive, she has already heard it. Use your brain, and stand out in her mind by saying something original. Wit and cleverity are good. Telling her you have a shovel in your trunk—bad.

    Other rule of thumb? If you have to ask yourself if she is into you—guess what? She’s not—and you should politely give her the space after you have worked to establish yourself. It might be just bad timing for her, but asserting yourself (and then excusing it) will never work.

    Also, any time you are tempted to start a greeting with “don’t take this the wrong way” rethink what you are saying. Likewise “I don’t want to sound racist, but” Or other, “this statement is not what it appears to be”—these are what we call “dead giveaways”…

    I have said my peace, now to go get flogged…

  • I, too, have an opinion!

    Re: Hitch

    Look, I know you mean well, but really, you just assume what my position is, not engage with what I have articulated my position to be.

    I’m sorry that I’ve made you feel misunderstood or if I’ve brushed aside something important. It seems as though we’re just interested in having different conversations. I’m interested, here and now, in having the conversation about immediate issues. I feel that a comment thread following one of a series of blog posts related to the elevator incident and its aftermath is an appropriate venue for that conversation. I’m less interested in using this comment thread as a venue for your discussion because I think it deserves more time, and more careful consideration of a wider variety of evidence and literature than we can account for here. It’s undoubtedly an important question, and if you want to do your own blogging about it, or if you want to link to a different post somewhere else that handles it more directly, then more power to you. For that matter, if you want to keep talking about it here, I can’t stop you and wouldn’t want to. But I will have to leave you and anyone else who may be interested to it.

    If the above means that our exchanges have wasted your time, then I apologize for that as well.

  • J. Allen

    I wonder if a lesbian had asked her for coffee…

    But I feel that any individual must take responsibility for their feelings, whether uncomfortableness or being offended.

    If RW doesn’t want to be in elevators alone with strangers, then she needs to make sure she doesn’t end up in that situation. She could have had a trusted friend escort her. But the whole point of the feminist movement is that women can take care of themselves, as equals to men. Not that we need to treat them specially.

    The reason Islam oppresses it’s women is nominally to protect them from supposed rapists, remember.

    Every time we meet a stranger we take the risk that the we might be harmed, regardless of race or sex. This is no different, and so I don’t think it’s about sex at all.

    The truth is the guy probably had a huge crush on RW but was too nervous to approach her in public. Maybe that’s creepy, maybe that’s sweet. But what it’s certainly human and he shouldn’t have to apologize for asking a simple question.

    If we want freedom, then we have to allow for risk, and trust that civil society will seek justice against those that take advantage of that.

    Anyway, as far as this concerns females not wanting to go to atheist conventions because they are sausagefests…I just don’t buy it. The premise here is flawed, which is why I think I can’t agree with Egg Fu Laura.

    Atheism is about truth and freedom imho, not feeling comfortable. We can’t undermine our principles because certain females don’t like large groups of men and the implied risk that said men may find them attractive.

    Atheism groups should be sex positive in my opinion, and that outlook expects both women and men to be strong and independent enough to give and take advances as easily as one would ask another for directions. If behavior is perceived as insulting or demeaning, it should be called out on the spot, and dealt with at the moment.

    It’s the only way I see to honor the natural and unstoppable sexual drives of both genders. Otherwise events like this will get scrutinized and crack the community.

  • Hitch

    I, too, have an opinion!: No worries, I appreciate the exchange.

  • I, too, have an opinion!

    Re: Grifter

    For me, it’s never really been about assigning a specific level of blameworthiness to Mr. Elevator. Again, I’ll refer back to Ms. Watson’s original video. Most of what she had to say was about how the incident made her feel. The other important bit was her admonition. If other people have taken it upon themselves to make this about Mr. Elevator and how much of a bad, bad man he is, then that’s their prerogative I guess, but you’ll have to address those concerns to them. To be honest though, I’m not sure you aren’t tilting at windmills, because I still haven’t seen the posts or comments heaping blame on Mr. Elevator. They may well be out there, but I haven’t the time to look.

  • meko

    Anyway, as far as this concerns females not wanting to go to atheist conventions because they are sausagefests…I just don’t buy it. The premise here is flawed, which is why I think I can’t agree with Egg Fu Laura.

    Speaking as a woman who has attended atheist events and decided not to return, it is the culture, rather than the male-to-female ratio that bothered me, though I think the culture is a function of the male to female ratio.

    Though I must say that if woman after woman wanted to talk to me about my eyes (instead of the purported subject of the event), followed me around the room or out of the building without speaking to me, or stood within 18 inches of me in venues that were not crowded, I’d think that was creepy too.

    There are women who don’t go because they have bad experiences at events that are the result of males who probably don’t mean to cause discomfort, but who ignore social norms that exist in most other environments. There is a norm that atheists justify this because the priority is placed on personal expression, not on creating a baseline level of comfort for everyone. This may be an atheist value.

  • Grifter

    @I, too–
    For examples:

    John Caine, way up near the top of this conversation, said this: “The problem being that this guy didn’t care whether he made her uncomfortable or not. It’s called empathy, and it’s something you disregard when you are treating a human being as an object.”

    http://friendlyatheist.com/2011/07/05/a-few-more-thoughts-that-are-sure-to-be-uncontroversial/#comment-779048

    Most of what Cortex had to say.

    There are a bunch of others, but this conversation has been getting more and more civil, so if people stop making the arguments, then I stop caring about them.

    And as regards to the whole tone thing: Someone complained about tone, you gave some of what seemed to be excuses for the manner people were behaving. I responded with “What happened to you in a previous debate does not justify bad behavior in a current debate.” If you just wanted us to empathize, that’s fine, but I just said that it was no excuse, which I guess you’re saying now that you agree with?

  • http://blackholeofthought.blogspot.com/ Richard L

    Atheistic “no-bullshit” Bracelets

    An idea for the next atheistic meeting. Introduce “no-bullshit” bracelets and give them out to each participant in the conference. If a person is wearing a bracelet, this means that any ‘hitting on’ or sexual approach is off limit for the meeting. Any digression from this rule should result in a one-year ban from all conferences that sign up for the program.

    It is a direct and cheap way for women and men to avoid unwanted conversations, yet enjoy themselves with their peers afterwards. Any person interested in sex, willing to keep their options open or someone uncomfortable with the restrictions can just skip wearing the bracelet.

    There is even a possibility that wearing the bracelet might spark an actual conversation about feminist issues right there in the pub or after-party!

    There would of course be setbacks, such as stigmatization of the not-”not willing”, but seeing as it is an atheist conference, I would give people the benefit of the doubt and hope that they can remember a simple idea. After all, the bracelet would just be a sign of temporary chastity.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    Zomgitscriss just posted a video announcing that she is coming to Las Vegas for the Amazing 9 meeting. If she is smart, she will move around with an entourage and never get into an elevator with a stranger. Otherwise, some even on team Rebecca might in a moment of passion jump over to team EG. ;)

  • Nordog

    What if the Elevator Guy was Mexigay? Would that change anything?

  • allison

    Hemant, overall I agree with you. I’ve even quoted you favorably elsewhere! :)

    However, I have a question here. RW is being criticized for taking on someone who has less power than she does in a public setting. The assertion is that someone who is a student, though not a student of RW’s at all, should not be called out that way because it’s an abuse of power.

    OTOH I’m not seeing much criticism of Dawkins for taking on RW. I’m seeing people saying that the stuff he said was wrong-headed and offensive, but not that he’s using his power to bully.

    Could you please elaborate on how you feel these are different?

    (Hemant says: It’s not a power issue to me. It’s about how it was done. RW called out a student in the middle of a keynote address on the Religious Right. It’s not like there was an equal chance for rebuttal there from the student, who had to sit there quietly as her peers watched her, before she could even get a chance to respond.

    Dawkins called out RW on a blog discussing that particular topic. And she could (and did) respond right back.

    I guess I’d think the two scenarios were the same only if Dawkins started giving his talk at TAM9 about, say, Creationism, but stopped in the middle of it just to point out that Rebecca had somehow exhibited “anti-male” thinking.

  • I, too, have an opinion!

    Re: Grifter

    I’m going to start at the end this time.

    And as regards to the whole tone thing: Someone complained about tone, you gave some of what seemed to be excuses for the manner people were behaving. I responded with “What happened to you in a previous debate does not justify bad behavior in a current debate.” If you just wanted us to empathize, that’s fine, but I just said that it was no excuse, which I guess you’re saying now that you agree with?

    I don’t really agree or disagree. It’s more that the tone argument seems like a red herring and a means of derailing the conversation when one would rather not have a substantive debate. I understand the pragmatic reasons to try to keep things civil. That’s my main motivation for commenting the way that I do. But it’s also a lot easier for me to aim for a level of what I’ll call compassionate detachment because I don’t really have a horse in the race the same way that other people do. What’s the worst that could happen to me as a result of all this? I don’t see myself ever feeling quite as unwelcome or marginalized by the atheist community as some people seem to.

    As for the examples, I won’t say that your readings are unreasonable or untenable, but I do read them differently. As to the first, I see a difference of focus. I think you would agree that when Mr. Elevator (let’s call him Otis) said “don’t take this the wrong way,” he was acknowledging that there was something in what he was about to say that could be taken the wrong way. He decided to go through with it anyway. You prefer to focus on the fact that he at least tried to preempt a bad reaction, which puts a positive spin on things. Mr. Caine, on the other hand, prefers to focus on the fact that Otis, despite his acknowledgment of the possibility of things going a bit sideways, went through with his proposition anyway. That puts a more negative spin on things, but I don’t think it’s unfair. It was always available to Otis not to make any propositions, and he made the choice to do go for it.

    As to cat’s comments, I don’t see too much there about Otis himself. Most of what was said had to do with problems in the comment thread(s). There was this line: “Small harassments and small instances of acting like a privileged ass wear people down.” But I don’t think it’s really that bad. I think the repeated use of the word “small” is important here.

    And I’ll grant that there’s probably something in a post by Cortex that even I may not be able to spin as not so bad.

    One thing that’s important to keep in mind as well is this: throughout all of the debates, Otis has remained anonymous. We know nothing about who he is beyond what we heard in the video (unless he’s come forward, or Ms. Watson has divulged something new that I missed). That being the case, any criticism of him is necessarily only a criticism of what he did, because that is the only aspect of his character or identity that anyone could refer to.

  • Obsrvantsrvant

    I have read through this thread, and am dumbstruck by how many seemingly intelligent people are at their worst arguing and articulating for predation of women, or at their least marginalizing those who have been in those type of encounters.

    I am active man in BDSM/swinger clubs myself, and can assure you there would be nothing more important than making sure all participants never felt violated or uncomfortable—whips and chains don’t make an appearance until agreed to.

    I feel like some men need the following advice (if it doesn’t apply to you, I apologize):

    If your A game is leading your date to an isolated dark place so you can “really let her know who you are”, you might be a sociopath.

    If you can, in a public place where others can observe you, make a simple introduction and talk to a woman about what the group’s meeting was about. Impress her with your work within the group, an interesting blog, ANYTHING but her appearance—if she is attractive, she has already heard it. Use your brain, and stand out in her mind by saying something original. Wit and cleverity are good. Telling her you have a shovel in your trunk—bad.

    Other rule of thumb? If you have to ask yourself if she is into you—guess what? She’s not—and you should politely give her the space after you have worked to establish yourself. It might be just bad timing for her, but asserting yourself (and then excusing it) will never work.

    Also, any time you are tempted to start a greeting with “don’t take this the wrong way” rethink what you are saying. Likewise “I don’t want to sound racist, but” Or other, “this statement is not what it appears to be”—these are what we call “dead giveaways”…

    I have said my peace, now to go get flogged…

  • Grifter

    @I, too:

    I was in a rush, and guess I misread your post (or you sneakily edited it, but I’m guessing it’s just me), but I thought you said you hadn’t seen people throwing the misogynist/sexist label around, and hadn’t seen people finding fault with EG. I gave examples of both. Mr. Caine, for example, stated that she was totally objectified. He bases this on the premise that EG didn’t care about RW as a person, which seems unfair and blamey. But I can see how, if you apparently didn’t ask that, my reply is confusing.

    As regards to tone, we can drop it, but I was only responding to what I saw as your defense of their tone, which I saw as a reason, not an excuse.

  • Lyra

    I’m going to share a little bit about the only freethinker convention I’ve ever been to. I’m just going to preface it by saying nothing terrible happened, but maybe it will illustrate a point.

    The convention was about two hours away from my home town and I was a little late getting there because there was unexpected construction; I was supposed to be there a half-hour early, but I ended up being 5 minutes late. Because of this I snuck into an open spot next to a man who was a lot older than me (he was in his mid-sixties, I’m in my mid-twenties). I’m trying to be more social, and the two of us chatted for a bit, partially about how happy he was that there were so many young people at the event. There was a long lunch break and the two of I ate at a restaurant in the building. After that, he suggested walking outside for a bit until the conference resumed. I agreed.

    There was a park a little bit away from the building, so we went there. It was there that he took my hand. I had not expected this at all, and I froze. All at once it became clear that he had been flirting with me. The first thought that went through my head was, “Oh, God, I am alone with man whose intentions I have severely misjudged. If he does something else to violate my assumptions in a more egregious manner, there is no one around to help.” Note that we weren’t particularly isolated: we were by a heavily trafficked road in a park that wasn’t completely isolated, but neither was there anyone readily available if I needed some kind of assistance.

    Now, I want to be clear that I didn’t actually believe he was going to rape me. But the fact that I’d already misjudged his intentions once combined with the fact that we were now isolated and away from potential sources of support if I were to need it scared me.

    I imagine it was much the same for Watson. The two of them were alone, cut off, and he was angling for more than she had expected. Even if she judged him as not dangerous, she’d also just judged him as not likely to proposition her in an elevator. And so she was unsettled, unsure. What if he escalated again?

    I guess I just hope that people can understand how this can be stressful and off-putting.

  • T.

    This seems to be one of the few threads still active, and also one of the most reasonable, so I thought I post my thoughts here.

    Pt 1 of 4: Summary

    Much of what I want to say has been said so I won’t overly belabor those points, but I have a few points to add that I think have been insufficiently addressed in general.

    So you know where I am coming from: I’m a woman. I’m a life long atheist. I am a man-loving feminist. I am sufficiently attractive that I am used to being hit on by totally random men. I have had men try to drug me (for obvious reasons) and I have been groped, harassed, stalked, threatened and physically assaulted. I get why women are deeply concerned for their personal safety, I am too, and yet I can’t side with the strident feminist camp that paints all men as predators, because it’s been men who have come to my rescue more often than women.

    My main point is that one of Rebecca’s goals in countering sexist behavior within the skeptic community is to make it more comfortable for women to join in. But she undermined this very goal by singling out a young woman who disagreed with her, in front of her peers and in public. This, I think will do just as much to turn women off as smarmy guys with no social skills do.

  • T.

    Pt 2 of 4: EG & Why men in the skeptic community should actually listen to women. Psst, it’ll help you get laid.

    Men want to meet attractive women who believe as they do, that’s just a fact, that’s the way humans are wired. Guess what, we women want to meet attractive guys who believe what we believe too. These are obviously compatible goals. What RW was telling them with her initial YT vid was how to not shoot themselves in the foot by driving away women, in general and personally. This is not unreasonable, and is actually beneficial to those very men who are now complaining. Guys….she’s trying to improve your odds of success by not creeping girls out, why do you not get that? She’s not saying she wants to suppress men from hitting on women, just that if you do approach a woman, doing THAT, is not going to optimize your chances and she explained why.

    I’m in the camp that thinks that what EG did was not threatening in and of itself, but socially inept, oblivious to the concerns of women over their personal safety, and just kind of a sleazy. “Hi we’ve never met, you don’t know me, but I think I know you, and I would like you to trust me enough to be alone with me. And given that ‘Come up for coffee’ is so commonly used as code for ‘Let’s get naked,’ that it’s parodied in endless TV shows and movies, I am making my interest in you sexually very clear.” Yeah, that’s a dick move, but odds are if the problem was illuminated for him he could see the error of his ways, especially if it increases the odds of success in the future.

    Rebecca was right to point out that this made her uncomfortable, and we’ve clearly seen that it makes a great many women uncomfortable. So guys, if you see a woman and want to hit it off, don’t do something that it’s statistically likely to make her uncomfortable. That does not mean that it’s wrong or should be ruthlessly stamped out by the PC police, it’s just that women, flooded with stress hormones, are not very receptive to invitations and come-ons in that state. And there is a reason they are stressed, and it might not be about you personally.

  • T.

    Pt. 3 of 4: The trouble with feminist leadership today.

    I do think that one of the main reasons why the feminist movement has lost traction with a lot of women, especially young women, is because of the “you are with us, or against us” and if you disagree you are in league with the enemy. Doesn’t this sound awfully like the “shrill” hard liners of the religious groups, antivaxers, and quackerpractors we fight against? Don’t they usually turn out to be wrong in the end, or at least are over overreaching? Or, gasp, even some of the hard line, anti-accommodations atheists?

    Behavior like this turns people off that could so easily be won to the cause by explaining your points and by…not being a dick, which, I think, Rebecca gave a talk about at some point. Hmmm.

    Not everyone has the confidence, especially in a new group, to speak their mind; kudos to those who do. But for those who don’t, watching someone else who does speak their mind, and then has their argument misrepresented by a respected member of the community and are personally singled out in a public forum, pretty much ensures you will never hear boo from those quiet people who will be too shy or nervous to speak up lest they be ridiculed, and odds are they won’t participate much. It was an incredibly undiplomatic way to handle such a disagreement. It’s my understanding it was a conference on student leadership. Shouldn’t people be leading by example?

  • AxeGrrl

    Obsrvantsrvant, great post :) (and i love the word ‘cleverity’, i think i’ll start using it:)

    And Lyra, thanks for sharing your story…..it might help some people put themselves in the shoes of others.

  • T.

    Pt 4 of 4: Advice from a man-friendly, sex-positive feminist on understanding women’s brains and improving your odds of romantic/sexual success.

    As a woman, who digs men, and wants to see us all get along, I want to offer some advice to guys on how women’s brains work to help ensure your success. I know I’m not the only one who has read many of the recent books that touch on minds and consciousness and that whole theory of mind thing but here’s the gist: the brain is not rational, and we have no control over the thoughts we think, or our hormonal reactions to them. We do have a *degree* of control over our actions if we take the time to actually think about them, rather than acting spontaneously.

    Ok, here is an example of how this works, and how guys shoot themselves in the foot:

    You see a woman you find attractive. And you probably think of her in some kind of intimate/naked fashion (this is probably a serious understatement but I’m giving you guys the benefit of the doubt). You approach said women, and tell her you find her very attractive and would she like to come to your room for a coffee/bag of caramels/night cap? No preamble, no small talk.

    Here is what probably just went flashing through her mind:

    “Uh. Ok Strange man thinks I am hot. Men picture hot women naked. He wants me to go to his room. He wants to have sex with me. I am now thinking that he is thinking about us having sex, therefore I am now thinking us having sex. Ugh! I don’t even know this guy and I’ve just been forced to imagine him naked and us having sex.”

    I’m talking split second imagery flitting through one’s brain that one cannot control. I’m not saying she’s imagining you raping her. Just that she’s now been forced, BY HER OWN MIND, to think of you in a way she was not expecting or likely to have wanted. So in the most abstract, non-“factual” way, buddy, you just flashed her. Eww! You may as well have sent her an email via an online dating with a picture of your penis attached.

    And here’s another thing men should know about women. If we dig you, we will want to become acquainted with your penis. This serves us both well. And, when we like someone, we tend to picture them in the best possible light. When we don’t like them, or are put off by them, we picture them in a bad light. So when she has that image of the two of you having sex thrust into her own consciousness, by her own mind just doing it’s thing, she’s picturing you at your worst. Your belly is bigger, your penis is smaller, you have more nose/back/toe hair, you smell bad, you slobber when you kiss, and you are terrible in bed.

    You don’t want her to think that do you? That’s not an accurate representation, right? Too bad, you just blew your chance at a first impression.

    No I’m not saying that all women will say “No” and picture you as a 2 stroke joke with halitosis, but odds are many will. If you establish a little rapport with her, and the chemistry is mutual, she might be dragging you to her room in short order. Probably not, but stranger things have been known to happen. After all, TAM is in Vegas. Women like sex too, we just like to have it with guys we like. And being a doofus doesn’t give us that chance to actually form an opinion about if we like you or not.

    Best of luck! Use condoms and lube.

  • http://www.churchofreality.org Wally Real

    lulz

    http://encyclopediadramatica.ch/Rational_Response_Squad

    have you not learned from Recent History?

    ~WR

  • Lichen

    Just to clarify, though, it’s not just about reading signals. It’s also about understanding, for example, that not all women like the feeling they get when men behave in a way that communicates (intentionally or otherwise) a presumption of female sexual availability at all times. So things like propositioning someone in an elevator, or commenting on a woman’s attractiveness, or a number of other things that are largely coded as harmless for men and by men, might not be so harmless for some women. It’s about thinking outside your own box when you’re dealing with other people.

    Perfect.

  • Grifter

    T.: Your thoughts are very reasonable!

  • Jason Goertzen

    I’ve been struggling to find a succinct way of saying this. I’m just going to be very direct and avoid long-winded explanations.

    1) What “Elevator Guy” did was creepy.

    2) Rebecca’s advice to men (to not behave like this) is good advice, that should be followed.

    3) This is because it’s wrong to make other people feel uncomfortable, if it can be helped. It’s also dense to not realize that propositioning a woman in an elevator at 4am will make her feel uncomfortable.

    4) Dawkins is absolutely correct to draw an analogy between Watson’s interpretation of this event (as being another case of men ignorantly pushing women away from skepticism) and PZ Myer’s desecrating the communion wafer.

    5) Dawkins is being thoroughly consistent with his previously expressed opinion that your feelings are your own business, and are yours to deal with–that, short of injury, one person’s feelings cannot be used to mandate the behavior of others.

    6) Dawkins is wrong about this. Feelings matter–especially when you are trying to help your movement gain recognition as being a welcoming, reasonable place to be. He was wrong about it when he supported PZ, and he’s wrong about it when he criticizes Watson here.

    7) Finally, Watson is being inconsistent in that she supported PZ, and mocked the people who got upset about the communion wafer. “It’s just a wafer, what’s the big deal?” is exactly analogous to “But she wasn’t raped, what’s the big deal?” If her argument is that it’s important to consider women’s feelings if we’re to help attract them to the skeptical movement, then it’s also the case that the feelings of religious people matter, and they should be considered when trying to attract them to the sketpical/atheist movement.

    8 ) Watson acts as though critics of her views on why women are dissuaded from attending skeptical events (essentially: because men behave badly) are de facto critics of her own perceptions and experiences of men behaving badly. It is possible to disagree with Watson while still (a) being and advocate of equality and the right of women to not be sexually assaulted and (b) to agree that men like EG behave badly. Watson doesn’t seem to see this.

    Anyway, sorry for making this so long. These are some of my thoughts on the subject.

  • http://www.davehodgkinson.com/ Dave Hodgkinson

    How about this:

    If we’re so concerned about gender imbalance at these things, set a 50/50 quota. If only 5 women sign up, only 5 guys get to.

    Simples!

  • Nordog

    7) Finally, Watson is being inconsistent in that she supported PZ, and mocked the people who got upset about the communion wafer. “It’s just a wafer, what’s the big deal?” is exactly analogous to “But she wasn’t raped, what’s the big deal?” If her argument is that it’s important to consider women’s feelings if we’re to help attract them to the skeptical movement, then it’s also the case that the feelings of religious people matter, and they should be considered when trying to attract them to the sketpical/atheist movement.

    The estimation of men by many feminists is little different in quality than the estimation of Christians by many atheists.

  • allison

    Thank you so much, Hemant, for replaying to me in a speedy manner!

    It’s not a power issue to me. It’s about how it was done. RW called out a student in the middle of a keynote address on the Religious Right. It’s not like there was an equal chance for rebuttal there from the student, who had to sit there quietly as her peers watched her, before she could even get a chance to respond.

    Dawkins called out RW on a blog discussing that particular topic. And she could (and did) respond right back.

    I guess I’d think the two scenarios were the same only if Dawkins started giving his talk at TAM9 about, say, Creationism, but stopped in the middle of it just to point out that Rebecca had somehow exhibited “anti-male” thinking.

    So why are you saying that we shouldn’t call out students for their publicly expressed opinions? I know that with high school students, who are children, this is an issue, and if it were a student of mine somehow I’d probably go more sensitive (I teach college), but I don’t see this as a student-teacher interaction at all, in fact I see it as somewhat beside the point. This is someone who was acting as an adult, right?

    I think for me…here’s the difference. I am full well admitting that the timing within the talk may not have been the best – I have to listen to the full talk to figure that out, and haven’t done that yet. It sounds as if RW chose timing within her talk that was not optimal at all (really, if she put this directly after hate mail quotes about raping her, etc, I would consider it an off-topic veer) to do this, but I could see some situations where calling a college student blogger/vlogger with a sizable audience out on anti-male thinking within a talk on how the religious right treats women would be on topic. As on topic as, say, Dawkins giving a talk at TAM9 about Creationism and mentioning that Rebecca was exhibiting signs of supporting the Creationist argument if she were doing so on her blog.

    Because I think mentioning the atheist community’s approach to women’s place in society is not terribly off-topic, I’m going to go see if I can find a recording of this talk somewhere before I pass further judgement.

    I am saddened that some of the students feel as if they have been shut down by this conversation, but I do think that there needs to be a realization on their part that the blogging they’re doing is very public speech and that things they write can and do get moved from one medium to another.

    (Hemant says: It’s not that we shouldn’t tell students (or other atheists in this case) that they’re wrong. But if you really want them to come to your side, there are more tactful ways to do it.

    I agree they’re both adults and it’s not exactly a “teacher/student” relationship.

    Frankly, if Dawkins called out a specific blogger in our movement for promoting Creationism-like thinking (or whatever), I still think that’d be a jerky move. I know everyone’s up in arms about how we should name names, but I just don’t understand the strategy behind shaming people who are *on our side* because they happened to make a mistake somewhere down the line.

    I agree completely that the atheist community’s treatment of women is a discussion worth having on blogs and in conferences. Though, even then, the things I just wrote would hold true.

    I’ve given plenty of talks about the amazing things atheist college students do on campus. There are examples, though, of students who harm our cause and just make atheists look bad. I mention those examples, too. But I can’t imagine ever singling out a particular student in my audience and saying “Billy over there is a disgrace to atheist activists.” Since one of the messages of ElevatorGate is to consider what other people are feeling because of your actions, then why not extend that same idea to people like Billy?)

  • Jason Goertzen

    @Nordog: “The estimation of men by many feminists is little different in quality than the estimation of Christians by many atheists.”

    In both cases, the labels describe so wide a variety of opinions and values that it’s almost meaningless to make such a comparison, unfortunately.

  • Hitch

    Allison, isn’t it more that Rebecca and Stef had a disagreement on a situation? And then Stef was made into an example of something greater, in a visible presentation?

    I think it is legitimate to discuss differences that are relevant to the topic, but someone agreeing or disagreeing if approaching in an elevator is OK, is hardly even relevant to the real and serious issues that is the anti-woman campaigns the religious right is doing right now. By putting that difference of opinion in that context it make it something else than just a difference of opinion. It makes it into an example of what is horribly wrong.

    I have no issues with people hashing out their differences but I find it hard to justify that particular approach to harshing them out.

    Similar with the panel in Dublin. Rather than approaching a difference in the Q&A where an exchange in context would have been possible, the context as displaced and the name dropped as a kind of example of what is fundamentally wrong.

    But yeah if the goal is to just make an example of people we disagree with, then I’d say that is a working strategy.

    Note that professional key-note presenters don’t tend to do this. Key-notes rarely are a place where disagreements with others are advanced, and it is in fact a courtesy to address a person directly if they are the subject of dispute and are addressable.

    And yes I think what is made out of disagreement is very much at the core of what I find so off-putting about so-called elevator-gate. There are real issues and real disagreements to be had that can honestly be discussed. Instead there is a lot of outrage and grand-standing. I for one don’t need this and I cannot see how that helps us bring young people in and encourage them to voice an opinion, especially one that addresses more visible people. And that has nothing to do with baby-sitting, but maintaining a fair discourse culture.

    Am I missing something here?

  • Lichen

    Maybe Watson should be mindful of the people who did get rape in elevator before, because using an example where she was asked to coffee at 4am in the morning, to which she declined, and the guy presumably just walked away, nothing else happened, isn’t very mindful of the rape victims. Maybe such an example is dismissive of the real atrocities endured by others.

    Not having identified as such, you do not get to speak for true rape victims against a woman who only discussed how a sexual proposition from a stranger made her uncomfortable and to avoid this creepy behavior when approaching women in the future. Your dismissive tone that no female concern is valid until a greater transgression occurs against them isn’t very mindful of rape victims, actually.

  • allison

    As you do, I think there are real issues within the atheist community to address here. Both are really wider issues within society.

    I do acknowledge that men feeling as if they always have to make the first move is a problem. I can say that for my part I’ve worked to rectify that, making my own advances when I was interested and available and encouraging other women to do the same, but I do know that it leads to some fellows risking it when they are getting contrary signs. However, another problem is that by many accounts (and Hemant mentioned this above as well, so it’s not just the impression of a few irritated women) atheist meetups and conferences are seen as a meat market by a certain percentage of the men and that there’s a high tolerance of treating the smaller number of women who do attend as being there for hook-ups. Overall, this is very bad for the movement, and it reflects poorly on what our views of women are.

    I’m just trying to scope out where the lines are. What I was seeing was Hemant saying that Stef’s comments shouldn’t have been addressed because she was a student. I may have been misreading it as the idea that Rebecca was in the educator role within the community because she was more senior, so I’ve been trying to discern whether the problem was the lack of ability to reply, the power differential (ie, Dawkins has at least as much power over Rebecca’s career as Rebecca has over Stef’s), or something else. There have been several people saying that the way women are treated in the atheist community is completely off-topic when talking about the way the religious right treats women, and I don’t think that’s completely correct.

    So…I’m not trying to be an apologist for what Rebecca did at the moment, although I understand how it may sound that way. I’m trying to thrash through this in my own brain and be sure that I’m understanding what I read correctly.

    Thank you for your take upon this. I do appreciate it. :)

  • ewan

    allison – I don’t want to put words in Hemant’s mouth, but I think you are misreading him. My understanding of this is that the problem is the power imbalance between speaking from the podium and being on the floor of a meeting.

    If RW and Stef had gone at each other via their respective blogs, that would have been OK. If they’d both been on a panel at a conference and got into it there, that would have been OK. RW using a conference platform that wasn’t available to Stef for her response, is a problem.

  • ewan

    not all women like the feeling they get when men behave in a way that communicates (intentionally or otherwise) a presumption of female sexual availability at all times

    Asking a question isn’t a presumption that one knows the answer, it’s an attempt to find out what the answer is.

    It’s fair to say that there are bad ways of asking the question, and that this was one, but it isn’t true to say that a presumption is being made.

  • Hitch

    My take on the student thing is simply that we do want to nurture young people to organize and engage. Further it would have been different if rather than some undergrad that most people learn as part of the keynote for the first time about, it was say someone who is known and established, that too changes the dynamics.

    I cannot say that it’s particularly great that a new emerging voice gets their introduction by having a disagreement placed in a larger negative context. To me that’s what the student thing indicates, but really to me that translates further. If we have some newcomers who want to engage and debate, well, yes debate. But be mindful of the context that you have the debate in and be mindful of who the person is.

    Alas unless some argumentation prowess and thick skin is what we want for participation, but I agree with Hemant that the if there is a positive lesson in Elevatorgate, it is precisely that being considerate of others feelings is a good idea. And to place someone who does not play into the agenda of the religious right in the context of a key-note on the topic, I’m sorry does not qualify as particularly considerate.

  • Indigo

    @ BrettH: Not all victims of sex crimes have vaginas. The answer to some jackass on the internet trivializing someones pain or fear or even just annoyance is not to trivialize someone else’s pain or fear or annoyance.
    This is true and it wasn’t my intent to trivialise male and male-bodied victims of sexual violence. However, my post was in response to someone who was basically saying, “It sucks that as a man, women who don’t know me exhibit caution around me.” The original commentator was making a statement about men and women, so I was responding in that context.

  • Jason Goertzen

    @Lichen: “Not having identified as such, you do not get to speak for true rape victims against a woman who only discussed how a sexual proposition from a stranger made her uncomfortable and to avoid this creepy behavior when approaching women in the future. ”

    Neither does Rebecca Watson get to speak for rape victims, since she wasn’t raped–which was his point. It was she, and her supporters, who first played ‘the rape card,’ calling the event a ‘potential rape.’ Surely it’s reasonable to clarify that, to be fair, she wasn’t actually raped. Surely it isn’t insensitive to actual rape victims to point out that what happened to Rebecca wasn’t as bad as what happened to them.

    When someone criticizes her position, they are not advocating leniency toward rapists, or failing to sympathize with rape victims, because her position is not only that “rape is bad.” Of course rape is bad! It is a gross mischaracterisation of her critics to suggest that they believe otherwise. One can (a) be horrified by rape, (b) be sympathetic to women in her position, and still not believe she is correct in her assessment of this being the root cause of the lack of female representation at skeptical events.

    She doesn’t see this. Instead she caricatures her opponents positions as being monstrous and absurd (being ‘anti-woman’). This is unfair and counterproductive.

    This, as it happens, has been her M.O. on the Skeptics’ Guide forums when she is criticized. She tends to ignore reasonable criticism, instead only acknowledging the most outlandish and ridiculous criticisms, then treating it as representative of her critics.

    “My critics are rape apologists” or “my critics are anti-women” is so obviously an example of ‘poisoning the well’ that I have a hard time understanding how people have rushed to her defense in this regard. She was out of line. Dawkins’ opinion, however misguided, cannot be construed as ‘anti-woman,’ for instance, without first twisting it beyond recognition.

  • Zhuge

    “even if it were, we would have additional reasons to try to avoid racism due to the harm it is likely to inflict.” Ah, so racism is different. And sexism is different so long as it’s against women. But sexism against men’s A-Ok. Gotcha.

    Please, I do urge you to give me the benefit of the doubt! If it appears I am saying that sexism against men is A-Ok, that is only because I haven’t given full details on my thinking, or else perhaps they do not come across readily.

    Racism is not different. I gave you an example immediately after of when racism would be equally as acceptable, namely when it would be a net positive for society. As you might guess, this is an extremely rare occurrence. I am, again, a consequentialist. I don’t see racism and sexism as bad in and of themselves, save aesthetically. I find them bad due to their consequences. Hence, while I do feel bad when a woman crosses the street to avoid me, I recognize that that behaviour pattern does me little harm and does her a world of good. If rape or harassment were unreal phantoms, then I think I would have a very good case to try to change it so that women would not do that in respect to my feelings.

    This is related to a point above:

    7) Finally, Watson is being inconsistent in that she supported PZ, and mocked the people who got upset about the communion wafer. “It’s just a wafer, what’s the big deal?” is exactly analogous to “But she wasn’t raped, what’s the big deal?” If her argument is that it’s important to consider women’s feelings if we’re to help attract them to the skeptical movement, then it’s also the case that the feelings of religious people matter, and they should be considered when trying to attract them to the sketpical/atheist movement.

    To put it plainly, feelings absolutely matter but they don’t matter absolutely. So doing something that offends me purely to offend me is wrong, but if there is a point that might help me it is not. Hence, graffiting a building in a way that will not teach anyone anything is bad. Taking a wafer that might draw attention to the absurdity of some doctrine and cause people to question religion might be worth the offense caused. The Muhammad Cartoons are offensive, but the point they make is worth the hurt feelings since they affirm the vital freedoms of(and from) religion, speech and press.

    So it can be ok in some cases to hurt feelings and not to in others. This is, of course, obvious.

    To go back to the sexism/racism thing. In some cases sex discrimination or racial discrimination is good. Consider the poor casting choices in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. A “race blind” decision turned out to be offensive, in effect. Similarly it is sensible for women to be more wary of being sexually harassed by men than by women. Acting on this is likely to minimize rather than maximize discomfort, fear, and pain.

    On the other hand, I cannot think of a way in which singling out black people as potential criminals is likely to minimize pain or suffering. It may be in some extreme cases. It may be reasonable for a white man in Zimbabwe to fear a large group of unknown black men near his home based on the racial confrontations Mugabe has created. This is very unfortunate, but its being sad does not make it false.

    Similarly with sexism. Sexism in the assignment of children in divorce cases has done bad things for the men and children and the women. This is bad and should be eliminated.

    Because moral worth doesn’t attach to being part of one group or another. It’s not “sexism against men is always ok” or “racism against whites is good but against blacks is bad.” It’s something more subtle on the order of “racism is often bad, but in some cases discrimination might actually have good effects. These cases are rare and offend my aesthetic sensibilities, but are ultimately preferable if they minimize suffering and maximize happiness.” The most obvious example is affirmative action. Affirmative actions gives blacks advantages against whites, and whites advantages over Asians. It may not be perfect and do things that need to be reformed, certainly. But if there is a system that gives certain bonuses to people who, say, descended from slaves and that system increases the happiness of the least well off without doing much damage to the happiness of others, even if I find racism offends my tastes, such discrimination would be the moral thing to do.

    I have had many experiences where doing what is right feels bad. Many Americans and Europeans think war is a solution to some moral problems. WWII may very well have been such a case. I find war disgusting and evil. But in such a case, I may be forced to admit that WWII was a morally just thing to do, no matter how much it disgusts me personally. The same is true of things like this. I would prefer to live in a world where racism was always absolutely bad, and so on for sexism or classism or discrimination based on sexual orientation or religious discrimination. But the world is not perfect and on the rare occasion what I so much dislike is what is best. I make a sacrifice of my aesthetic sensibilities for the greater good. You can choose not to do that in the name of asthetics, ethics, or self-interest. I do not.

  • Jason Goertzen

    “If it appears I am saying that [insert bad thing] is A-Ok, that is only because I haven’t given full details on my thinking, or else perhaps they do not come across readily.”

    This is a good principle in general. If your interpretation of someone’s argument suggests that they think rape, murder, racism, etc., are A-okay… you should seek clarification before assuming you’ve understood them correctly.

  • allison

    Hemant replied to me:

    Frankly, if Dawkins called out a specific blogger in our movement for promoting Creationism-like thinking (or whatever), I still think that’d be a jerky move. I know everyone’s up in arms about how we should name names, but I just don’t understand the strategy behind shaming people who are *on our side* because they happened to make a mistake somewhere down the line.

    I agree completely that the atheist community’s treatment of women is a discussion worth having on blogs and in conferences. Though, even then, the things I just wrote would hold true.

    Okay, I’m understanding now. Thanks for clarifying! Then yes, I agree with you. I don’t think a talk is a great place for “calling out” as it doesn’t afford much opportunity for response.

    I’m sorry for seeming dense – I’ve not attended a national atheist event for well over a decade. The one time I did so was not a great experience for me, and not one I was eager to replicate. As a result I’m not entirely clear on the norms for talks within the community.

  • allison

    @Hitch, thanks. I do agree with you that it wasn’t a particularly considerate move. I do also agree that we want to consider context and promote new voices.

  • Grifter

    @Zhuge: I was being rhetorical, and a bit flippant. I didn’t really think that was the end-all of your position, but it was the logical extension of what you said. There are MANY racists who would say that racism is perfectly justified for the same reasons that you have given for sexism.

    And a woman avoiding a man is not as bad as a man being told that his behavior is inappropriate because of the woman’s sexism. (People have found fault with EG “following her into the elevator”. I think it’s a very safe presumption that he was in the same hotel, and was heading back to his room, especially since he invited her there. So he should have, in their opinion, avoided the elevator because she might have been worried.)

    I wouldn’t really fault or think terrible a frail old lady who avoids black people on a dark street because she’s afraid of them, regardless of the fact I don’t like her racism. It is HER safety, after all. However, if she or if someone else says “Man, black people shouldn’t be on the street because they make old ladies uncomfortable”, I’m going to take issue.

    Same here. Although EG’s behavior lacked suavity, I think the whole rape card is invalid, as is the idea that he put her in some untenable position. He spoke to a woman who was in the same elevator as him, and said something she didn’t care for. The end. We can all learn several lessons from this, but I don’t think attacking EG for his lack of sensitivity towards RWs sexism is fair. I think attacking his behavior as POSSIBLY a symptom of a greater problem is fair, in that, as I said before, she undoubtedly had 1000 other people making comments she didn’t like, and that is frequently women’s experience at these things. I just don’t like seeing the benefit of the doubt being taken away from the individual, even if in aggregate I recognize that not all 1000 could reasonably have been “innocent”.

  • Zhuge

    @Zhuge: I was being rhetorical, and a bit flippant. I didn’t really think that was the end-all of your position, but it was the logical extension of what you said. There are MANY racists who would say that racism is perfectly justified for the same reasons that you have given for sexism.

    How can it be the logical extension of what I said and simultaneously not be what you thought was the end of my position?

    And to be honest, I personally felt it was a refusal to look at the deep issues involved based on a superficial reading of the situation, like those I see in affirmative action debates.

    “Well racism against black people is bad but against white people is okie-dokie then, right?”

    It simply ignores the reality on the ground and paints an obviously absurd portrait of the debator. It’s, I think, in poor taste, both in terms of the fact that it’s insulting but far more importantly in that it isn’t a response. I gave you a thought out response, and if you are going to say something to me I would hope it would be more than throw away quips that even you admit were not meaningful.

    To repeat: my point is that the facts- not just about crime statistics but about overall harm/benefit calculations- do not bear out the racists while they do justify women being more on guard around men. Not that they have to, of course, but that they are justified if they are. I have also explained how racism against blacks is unlike the very slight discrimination against men caused by the fear of harassment and rape due to the much greater harm it does. Furthermore, the behaviours women have with regards to men are very context dependent and are unlikely to tint their views in most other cases due to the fact that they interact with men, often good men whom they are likely to like or love, fairly often. So the slightly discriminatory behaviour is unlikely to cause any further harm.

    Both creationists and evolutionists believe that the evidence supports their views. Only one is actually right(the latter, just in case it isn’t obvious!)

    And a woman avoiding a man is not as bad as a man being told that his behavior is inappropriate because of the woman’s sexism. (People have found fault with EG “following her into the elevator”. I think it’s a very safe presumption that he was in the same hotel, and was heading back to his room, especially since he invited her there. So he should have, in their opinion, avoided the elevator because she might have been worried.)

    Some have suggested it would be polite to not follow her in the elevator. It would not have been wrong not to, but it may be the safer option. It’s not a particularly important aspect. It was foolish for him to not have considered the circumstances in which he asked her in the elevator.

    But here I fear you are constructing a strawman of a sort, I think likely based on a misreading of the words as I suggested above, namely, that “sexist” has two meanings, one judging morally and one only judging factually. My thought is that here most have been in the factual but non-moral judgment.

    I wouldn’t really fault or think terrible a frail old lady who avoids black people on a dark street because she’s afraid of them, regardless of the fact I don’t like her racism. It is HER safety, after all. However, if she or if someone else says “Man, black people shouldn’t be on the street because they make old ladies uncomfortable”, I’m going to take issue.

    Ultimately the reason such racist attitudes is bad is because they are often linked with far more dangerous racism. Since women interact with men all the time, they are likely to know and respect their rights. White people may or may not know black people, and the racists may hurt minorities, even unintentionally, through an ignorance of their position that is the root cause of other behaviors(like the people afraid that all Muslims are terrorists, out of ignorance, and so vote to prevent mosques or community centers from being built. To make the point clear, however, about the importance of context, one can be anti-Islam and not anti-Muslim. I may think it would be great if no new mosques were ever built without wanting to ban them due to their “being terrorists” or whatever.)

    Same here. Although EG’s behavior lacked suavity, I think the whole rape card is invalid, as is the idea that he put her in some untenable position. He spoke to a woman who was in the same elevator as him, and said something she didn’t care for. The end. We can all learn several lessons from this, but I don’t think attacking EG for his lack of sensitivity towards RWs sexism is fair. I think attacking his behavior as POSSIBLY a symptom of a greater problem is fair, in that, as I said before, she undoubtedly had 1000 other people making comments she didn’t like, and that is frequently women’s experience at these things. I just don’t like seeing the benefit of the doubt being taken away from the individual, even if in aggregate I recognize that not all 1000 could reasonably have been “innocent”.

    I don’t think that EG was evil, I think he was mistaken. I’ve done worse things by accident, but I don’t think I am evil. The point is not to attack EG, the point is to prevent another thoughtful but ignorant person from being an EG. C’est simple.

    I think that in the entire conversation EG isn’t a person, he’s a prop, a symbol. We can’t judge him because we don’t even know who he is. He’s an archetype we can discuss, investigate and try to reform at our leisure, since he represents so many similar behaviors.

    EG means nothing to me except as a symbol. I don’t know and don’t care if he gives to charity, thinks the Dark Knight was worse than Batman and Robin, or is obsessed with counting leaves of every tree he passes.

    And rape isn’t a card! The point isn’t to say that Rebecca was almost raped, and that EG was an awful awful person who was just waiting to do it, or that he is likely a rapist, or whatever. It was to say that she has a legitimate fear of being harassed or raped and that this fear is not uncommon in women.

    Removing that fear would likely cause more harm in aggregate than not. Hence, why not respect it? EG did not, and he should have. That’s all. It’s not that she was helpless, it’s that she was uncomfortable.

    Story:

    I am a non-drinker, generally. When I go somewhere where alcohol is served, people often try to get me to drink(not merely offering, but cajoling and all that) From my point of view, it is annoying and singles me out and makes me feel bad. From their point of view they’re having fun, and if someone else offered them a drink, they’d be happy. I can say no and they respect it. They don’t see that from my point of view it is uncomfortable and I would prefer that they not. They aren’t bad people, they just don’t know. I don’t hate them, many are very good friends.

    No rights have been violated, no one is forcing anything on me, no one is being cruel or evil. No one is being actively inconsiderate. Just ignorant. The cure to the darkness of ignorance is not the barbarism of punishment but friendly enlightenment.

    That is what is going on here. Enlightenment about the condition of women. Sometimes it hurts when one comes into the light out of darkness. It hurt me. But we get over the first pain and we are better people for it.

  • Grifter

    @Zhuge, actually, I am of the opinion that you don’t fix racism with more racism, so I don’t agree with your point there, regardless of the “situation on the ground”. But this is not the place for that discussion. I was hoping my flippant response would cause you to rethink what you had said, because I didn’t think you could really mean it. Clearly, you did rethink it, and you maintain that sexism is ok, provided the “situation on the ground” warrants it. Therefore my comments become a whole lot less flippant, and a whole lot more true. That is incredibly dangerous thinking, because we’ve seen what effects it can have on society. I’m not saying that women are hoping to make men as subservient as women used to be in society, but at the same time I won’t stand by and let hypocrisy stand. If sexism is bad, it’s bad. Not “it’s okay in these circumstances”, it’s bad.

    “To repeat: my point is that the facts- not just about crime statistics but about overall harm/benefit calculations- do not bear out the racists while they do justify women being more on guard around men.” — what the heck are you talking about? Yes, they do. Minorities are overwhelmingly more of the prison population than whites. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_prison_population. “Not that they have to, of course, but that they are justified if they are. I have also explained how racism against blacks is unlike the very slight discrimination against men caused by the fear of harassment and rape due to the much greater harm it does.” Again, that is a terrible and hypocritical argument. “Furthermore, the behaviours women have with regards to men are very context dependent and are unlikely to tint their views in most other cases due to the fact that they interact with men, often good men whom they are likely to like or love, fairly often. So the slightly discriminatory behaviour is unlikely to cause any further harm.” Is discrimination bad, or is it only bad if it has bad effects? I have always approached it as bad prima facie, and that it also has bad effects. Are you really saying that it is only bad if it has bad effects?
    “Both creationists and evolutionists believe that the evidence supports their views. Only one is actually right(the latter, just in case it isn’t obvious!)” — I’m not sure what your point is. Are you trying to equate me to a creationist? Even though it’s common and provable knowledge that minorities are a higher percentage of the prison population, and a higher per-capita percentage, and therefore your argument can exactly be applied by racists?

    “But here I fear you are constructing a strawman of a sort, I think likely based on a misreading of the words as I suggested above, namely, that “sexist” has two meanings, one judging morally and one only judging factually. My thought is that here most have been in the factual but non-moral judgment.” What the heck does that mean? Factual but non-moral sexism?

    “Ultimately the reason such racist attitudes is bad is because they are often linked with far more dangerous racism.” Again, I would say that racism is just bad in general. “Since women interact with men all the time, they are likely to know and respect their rights.” Really? That is a stupid argument. I’m not equating the situations, but white plantation owners interacted with black slaves all the time, but that didn’t seem to stop them from disrespecting their rights.
    “White people may or may not know black people, and the racists may hurt minorities, even unintentionally, through an ignorance of their position that is the root cause of other behaviors(like the people afraid that all Muslims are terrorists, out of ignorance, and so vote to prevent mosques or community centers from being built. To make the point clear, however, about the importance of context, one can be anti-Islam and not anti-Muslim.” WHAT? No, you can’t. A muslim is a member of Islam. If you are anti-islam you are definitively anti-muslim, in that you are against exactly what they stand for. If you mean you can be anti-islam without being anti-arab, then…of course?

    “…rape isn’t a card! The point isn’t to say that Rebecca was almost raped, and that EG was an awful awful person who was just waiting to do it, or that he is likely a rapist, or whatever. It was to say that she has a legitimate fear of being harassed or raped” – She never said that, as far as I know. OTHERS have said that. So, in this case, it’s a card being played by debaters trying to make a point, in the same manner as the “race card”.

    “Removing that fear would likely cause more harm in aggregate than not. Hence, why not respect it? EG did not” — again, as you said, it’s impossible to know what he thought. To quote you: “I think that in the entire conversation EG isn’t a person, he’s a prop, a symbol. We can’t judge him because we don’t even know who he is. He’s an archetype we can discuss, investigate and try to reform at our leisure, since he represents so many similar behaviors. EG means nothing to me except as a symbol.” He might have totally respected it, which is why he dropped it quickly when he realized she misinterpreted him and took his offer the wrong way. WE DON’T KNOW. So when you say on the one hand “we can’t judge him”, then moments later judge what he did or did not respect, then I call shenanigans.

    “That is what is going on here. Enlightenment about the condition of women.” Which women, which condition? We still don’t have a clear picture of what EG said, and there have been several women who say they have no issue with what he did. So please do not act as though “women” are some homgeneous mass. In this case, he may have misread signals, or been completely mininterpreted by an oversensitive woman, or been a complete ass. We don’t really know. And when “women” try to lecture men about acceptable behavior, or, as was stated in a previous thread on this site, how men have no “right” to speak unless given permission, using EG as some evil cipher, I call shenanigans on their argument both because it is unfair to EG specifically, and because often it what they are saying is also unfair to men in general.

  • Zhuge

    First:

    Is discrimination bad, or is it only bad if it has bad effects? I have always approached it as bad prima facie, and that it also has bad effects. Are you really saying that it is only bad if it has bad effects?

    Yes. I dislike it aesthetically but it is only morally bad if it hurts people. A good tyranny would, if it existed, be better than a bad democracy- even though I far prefer democracy personally. I am, as I said, a consequentalist.

    Since we disagree on this point, the rest of this conversation would be us talking past each other.

    Your position is that taking sex or race into account while dealing with people is always bad(minus some obvious exceptions, I am sure!) My point is that this is not consequentially the case, and though I would like to make the world like that, for now there may be room where AA or special caution around men may be warranted. It’s unfortunate, but so it is.

    @Zhuge, actually, I am of the opinion that you don’t fix racism with more racism, so I don’t agree with your point there, regardless of the “situation on the ground”. But this is not the place for that discussion. I was hoping my flippant response would cause you to rethink what you had said, because I didn’t think you could really mean it. Clearly, you did rethink it, and you maintain that sexism is ok, provided the “situation on the ground” warrants it. Therefore my comments become a whole lot less flippant, and a whole lot more true. That is incredibly dangerous thinking, because we’ve seen what effects it can have on society. I’m not saying that women are hoping to make men as subservient as women used to be in society, but at the same time I won’t stand by and let hypocrisy stand. If sexism is bad, it’s bad. Not “it’s okay in these circumstances”, it’s bad.

    If my thinking is dangerous, then it would lead to overall negative consequences and I would of course change my view. But I fail to see where I have suggested anything that would be dangerous. I do not believe anything factually incorrect, to my knowledge, and will gladly change my mind if so. Otherwise, I am considering the interests of people as equally as I can. This strikes me as the heart of equality.

    “To repeat: my point is that the facts- not just about crime statistics but about overall harm/benefit calculations- do not bear out the racists while they do justify women being more on guard around men.” — what the heck are you talking about? Yes, they do. Minorities are overwhelmingly more of the prison population than whites. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_prison_population. “Not that they have to, of course, but that they are justified if they are. I have also explained how racism against blacks is unlike the very slight discrimination against men caused by the fear of harassment and rape due to the much greater harm it does.” Again, that is a terrible and hypocritical argument. “Furthermore, the behaviours women have with regards to men are very context dependent and are unlikely to tint their views in most other cases due to the fact that they interact with men, often good men whom they are likely to like or love, fairly often. So the slightly discriminatory behaviour is unlikely to cause any further harm.” Is discrimination bad, or is it only bad if it has bad effects? I have always approached it as bad prima facie, and that it also has bad effects. Are you really saying that it is only bad if it has bad effects?

    I think that it’s very hard to take prison population as the gage of criminality in a society that is rather racist in its criminal justice system, to be honest. I don’t mean to make it seem like there’s a conspiracy afoot, because I don’t. I just think it would slant things poorly.

    “Both creationists and evolutionists believe that the evidence supports their views. Only one is actually right(the latter, just in case it isn’t obvious!)” — I’m not sure what your point is. Are you trying to equate me to a creationist? Even though it’s common and provable knowledge that minorities are a higher percentage of the prison population, and a higher per-capita percentage, and therefore your argument can exactly be applied by racists?

    I meant that either discrimination always in all its forms was harmful was factual or not. I only chose the example as something familiar, I did not intend that you are somehow a creationist or like one. A racist applying my argument would likely dismiss the concerns of the oppressed race in question or exaggerate the threat.

    “But here I fear you are constructing a strawman of a sort, I think likely based on a misreading of the words as I suggested above, namely, that “sexist” has two meanings, one judging morally and one only judging factually. My thought is that here most have been in the factual but non-moral judgment.” What the heck does that mean? Factual but non-moral sexism?

    Someone in the United States, never having interacted with black people and not understanding why it would be offensive, uses the N-word to insult someone. He is informed about why that is hurtful, and apologizes and never does it again. His act was “factually” racist, but there is no moral judgment attached to that claim.

    “Ultimately the reason such racist attitudes is bad is because they are often linked with far more dangerous racism.” Again, I would say that racism is just bad in general. “Since women interact with men all the time, they are likely to know and respect their rights.” Really? That is a stupid argument. I’m not equating the situations, but white plantation owners interacted with black slaves all the time, but that didn’t seem to stop them from disrespecting their rights.

    Right, because they weren’t treated as full humans. Women generally respect the humanity of men due to interacting with them as more or less equals in many situations. This is not the same and they do not compare.

    “White people may or may not know black people, and the racists may hurt minorities, even unintentionally, through an ignorance of their position that is the root cause of other behaviors(like the people afraid that all Muslims are terrorists, out of ignorance, and so vote to prevent mosques or community centers from being built. To make the point clear, however, about the importance of context, one can be anti-Islam and not anti-Muslim.” WHAT? No, you can’t. A muslim is a member of Islam. If you are anti-islam you are definitively anti-muslim, in that you are against exactly what they stand for. If you mean you can be anti-islam without being anti-arab, then…of course?

    No. I can believe Islam is a horrible religion that increases the net pain in the world(like Christianity) without hating Muslims. It’s an easy distinction to make. I don’t like conservatism. I don’t hate conservatives.

    “…rape isn’t a card! The point isn’t to say that Rebecca was almost raped, and that EG was an awful awful person who was just waiting to do it, or that he is likely a rapist, or whatever. It was to say that she has a legitimate fear of being harassed or raped” – She never said that, as far as I know. OTHERS have said that. So, in this case, it’s a card being played by debaters trying to make a point, in the same manner as the “race card”.

    It’s an explanation of why she might feel uncomfortable and is not being used to shut down debate, or at least, I am not using it thus.

    “Removing that fear would likely cause more harm in aggregate than not. Hence, why not respect it? EG did not” — again, as you said, it’s impossible to know what he thought. To quote you: “I think that in the entire conversation EG isn’t a person, he’s a prop, a symbol. We can’t judge him because we don’t even know who he is. He’s an archetype we can discuss, investigate and try to reform at our leisure, since he represents so many similar behaviors. EG means nothing to me except as a symbol.” He might have totally respected it, which is why he dropped it quickly when he realized she misinterpreted him and took his offer the wrong way. WE DON’T KNOW. So when you say on the one hand “we can’t judge him”, then moments later judge what he did or did not respect, then I call shenanigans.

    Yes, but not when he asked her in the elevator. It’s a minor oversight, but it’s worth pointing out.

    “That is what is going on here. Enlightenment about the condition of women.” Which women, which condition? We still don’t have a clear picture of what EG said, and there have been several women who say they have no issue with what he did. So please do not act as though “women” are some homgeneous mass. In this case, he may have misread signals, or been completely mininterpreted by an oversensitive woman, or been a complete ass. We don’t really know. And when “women” try to lecture men about acceptable behavior, or, as was stated in a previous thread on this site, how men have no “right” to speak unless given permission, using EG as some evil cipher, I call shenanigans on their argument both because it is unfair to EG specifically, and because often it what they are saying is also unfair to men in general.

    Such people may be making arguments like that. But we aren’t talking about EG anymore, we are discussing a general phenomenon using EG.

    If you want, we can talk about hypothetical “stairwell guy” who did the same thing in a stairwell between floors.

  • privileged white guy

    I find it hard to take serious people who use “privilege” as some sort of argument to blow people off and make accusations of misogyny. From my observations, the guys at /r/mensrights want equality more than feminists do.

  • Thilinab

    Hemant, in my opinion, you were so much closer in your first post about this (Everyone Needs to Calm the Fuck Down). Everyone involved in this seems to have done something wrong or stupid at some point.

    I think Stef McGraw seems to have done the least wrong, being a feminist doesn’t mean she has to automatically side with other women in the argument and all see did was speak her mind and give her 2 cents.

    I think (or hope) Dawkins was trying to make a kind of valid point, but did it like a complete dick.

    Rebecca Watson got hit on, it wasn’t sexual abuse. in fact it was nothing more than a stupid decision by a horny guy (the kind that’s happening a million times over at any given moment). But she tries to make it into so much more, this wasn’t a feminist issue, it was an atheism issue, but she turned it into one.

  • Hypatia’s Daughter

    Grifter – EG didn’t “speak to a woman who was in the same elevator as him, and said something she didn’t care for”. He sat in the bar, at the fringe of the group she was with, and never said one word to her. When she left the bar, he got up & followed her into the elevator, where he made “the coffee in my room” suggestion. Had it been a coincidence they meet in the elevator, it would have been less creepy. Someone watching you all night then getting up when you do, and following you into an elevator, is almost stalker behavior and creeps me out more than his coffee offer. (Which, BTW, RW never said was a proposition or that she feared he was a rapist. I wouldn’t even conclude that he wanted anything more than to spend a half hour drinking coffee & gazing worshipfuly into her eyes so he could brag to his friends that he met his hero, RW, and spent a half hour drinking coffee & impressing her with his insight into feminism & atheism. Unfortunately, whatever his motivation, he was inconsiderate and clueless of the effect he might have.)
    Jason Goertzen

    It was she, and her supporters, who first played ‘the rape card,’ calling the event a ‘potential rape.’

    I read the first 300 posts on Pharyngula and those on the FA and I do not recall that any of RW’s supporters calling the event a ‘potential rape’. This was brought up by the EG apologists, as in “but she didn’t get raped, so what’s the fuss”. The pro-RW crowd explained that the “fuss” was that any woman in the same situation might fear that things could spiral out of control because they have no way of knowing the intent of a total stranger nor his reaction to the word “no”. The hyperbole was cranked up by the apologists, not the RW crowd.
    And I do wish people had better reading skills! I never came across any post that said “All men are potential rapists”, except from the apologists, on any of the several blogs I visited. What was said is that since rapists look the same as the decent men who don’t rape, women in potentially dangerous situations have to treat any man as if he could be a rapist, until his behavior clarifies the situation. No man would leave his credit card on the table in a bar unless he knew the the other people at the table well enough to think they were honest. But when a woman takes the same precaution with her personal safety, she is “hysterical, man-hating and paranoid”.

  • Charon

    As I said before, I don’t think Stef fully understood the danger inherent in those situations

    It’s amazing how fragile our lives are. Walking down the sidewalk, a car could swerve into you. Or a random stranger standing next to you could crush your windpipe with a single blow.

    The reason we don’t live our lives petrified in fear is because we weigh other evidence. “Dude in elevator” does not equal dangerous, without something other than “awkward, polite, but creepy proposition”.

    Most rapes are not strangers in a dark alley (or elevator), you know.

    Good grief, people.

  • Charon

    If you want to be more inviting to women, LISTEN TO THEM!!!

    Yes, I’m listening to Stef McGraw and ERV argue with Rebecca Watson and Jen McCreight.

    Now, what did you want me to learn from that?

    Apart from, different people have different views of things? And there is no One True “woman position” which us guys could accept, and then magically have gender equality?

  • Jason Goertzen

    Hypatia,

    Go to the post, search for the word “Rape” on the page, and read the context in which it was first said. It was someone defending Watson.

    It was in response to the someone’s criticizing the “she had no escape” argument–another implicit suggestion that it was a predatory situation.

    So I don’t know what chain of posts you were reading, but the very first defense of Watson was that she was justified because of how scary the situation was. But all of that is so very unimportant. What matters is the repeatedly made suggestion that Watson’s critics are somehow “Anti-women” (this was Watson’s own charge, btw), or “Rape Apologists” (this from her supporters, not her, to my knowledge). This is poisoning the well, regardless of who first used the word.

  • Justin

    People are objects.

  • Grifter

    @Zhuge: “If my thinking is dangerous, then it would lead to overall negative consequences” You’re going to have to define this…surely I don’t have to give examples of so-called reverse racism having negative consequences? At what point does it become “overall”? “But I fail to see where I have suggested anything that would be dangerous.” You have given reasons that racism is okay. If you cannot see how that could be dangerous, I’m unsure how to convince you. “Otherwise, I am considering the interests of people as equally as I can. This strikes me as the heart of equality.” You actually are explicitly NOT doing that when you are being racist. Treating people differently based on race is the opposite of equality.

    “To repeat: my point is that the facts- not just about crime statistics but about overall harm/benefit calculations- do not bear out the racists while they do justify women being more on guard around men.” — what the heck are you talking about? Yes, if we use your logic, they do. Minorities are overwhelmingly more of the prison population than whites, therefore it should be okay to assume a given minority person is a criminal.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_prison_population.

    “Not that they have to, of course, but that they are justified if they are. I have also explained how racism against blacks is unlike the very slight discrimination against men caused by the fear of harassment and rape due to the much greater harm it does.” Again, that is a terrible and hypocritical argument. My example basically just switched the terms ‘man’ for ‘black person’, and you were against it.

    “Furthermore, the behaviours women have with regards to men are very context dependent and are unlikely to tint their views in most other cases due to the fact that they interact with men, often good men whom they are likely to like or love, fairly often. So the slightly discriminatory behaviour is unlikely to cause any further harm.” — You base that on nothing, really. Men have always interacted with women, yet women were once very much oppressed, so clearly, frequent interaction does not mean that discrimination won’t cause harm.

    “I think that it’s very hard to take prison population as the gage of criminality in a society that is rather racist in its criminal justice system, to be honest. I don’t mean to make it seem like there’s a conspiracy afoot, because I don’t. I just think it would slant things poorly.” — So would rape statistics when its a known fact that they are slanted. How slanted? Very hard to tell. But they are slanted for similar reasons as domestic violence statistics. So should those be thrown out too? You think not. Yet the race/prison population should be thrown out. You’ll forgive me for seeing a logical disconnect.

    “Someone in the United States, never having interacted with black people and not understanding why it would be offensive, uses the N-word to insult someone. He is informed about why that is hurtful, and apologizes and never does it again. His act was “factually” racist, but there is no moral judgment attached to that claim.” If he doesn’t understand that the word is racist, he was not being racist. I could call someone an “N-word” if I never heard it before, and was told it was equitable to plumber. If I did that, I would not be racist. If he understands that the word is racist and uses it with that knowledge, then there certainly IS a moral judgement attached to it from me, in that he was being racist and I consider that an ethically bad action.

    “Right, because they weren’t treated as full humans. Women generally respect the humanity of men due to interacting with them as more or less equals in many situations. This is not the same and they do not compare.” But your argument was that women generally would respect men’s rights because they interact with them. I gave an example of how interaction would not wind up with respecting rights. And many women DO NOT treat men as equals, claiming that men cannot possibly understand their perspective, and so shouldn’t be able to speak, while never doing the same check to themselves. Heck, a term has even been invented specifically to indicate that a man’s perspective is irrelevant/ignorable, “mansplaining”, as in “you’re just mansplaining, therefore I don’t have to address your points and we can ignore you.”

    “No. I can believe Islam is a horrible religion that increases the net pain in the world(like Christianity) without hating Muslims. It’s an easy distinction to make. I don’t like conservatism. I don’t hate conservatives.” — A fair point, I guess I misunderstood. I interpreted it as being agaisnt islam, and therefore you would be against muslims, at least in their capacity as muslims, which is not the entirety of their being, and so therefore you wouldn’t necessarily hate them, of course, but you would be as against them in their capacity as muslims as you are against their religion itself.

    “It’s an explanation of why she might feel uncomfortable and is not being used to shut down debate, or at least, I am not using it thus.” –but others in this conversation are. And once again, she never claimed it, to my knowledge.

    ” He might have totally respected it, which is why he dropped it quickly when he realized she misinterpreted him and took his offer the wrong way. WE DON’T KNOW. So when you say on the one hand “we can’t judge him”, then moments later judge what he did or did not respect, then I call shenanigans.”

    “Yes, but not when he asked her in the elevator. It’s a minor oversight, but it’s worth pointing out.”

    — I’m not sure what you’re saying in the context of my comment. Yes what but not when he asked her in the elevator?

    “Such people may be making arguments like that. But we aren’t talking about EG anymore, we are discussing a general phenomenon using EG.” — Ah, and there’s the rub. You can’t use a specific example and get mad when people pick at the details.

    “If you want, we can talk about hypothetical “stairwell guy” who did the same thing in a stairwell between floors.” What would we be taking as premises about stairwell guy? That he definitely was hitting on the woman? That he definitely was objectifying her? The reason there has been argument about EG, is that there are assumptions that have not been vetted. If you set up a hypothetical, and use the worst possible scenario for this hypothetical SG, then I’ll likely agree with all your points, because we will both accept the premises, since it’s a hypothetical. This was a real situation, with real motivations that you are making assumptions about. If you want me to accept something for the sake of argument, say so. Don’t state it as a fact and act as though I’m strange for questioning it.

    For example: if I accept for the sake of argument that he was stalking her all night, then asking her for sex, then I definitely think he’s a pig.

    If I accept the idea that he’s just a generally socially awkward person, who specifically tried to not be creepy by attempting to make clear he wasn’t trying to ask for sex, while asking if someone who just said they were tired would like some coffee, then I fail to see how he’s really to “blame”. Some people are just bad at social interactions, and that is not a moral failing; we should all try to be understanding about it, in my opinion, and not assume the worst, which is why I’m such a fan of the benefit of the doubt. Some people are also overly sensitive, and it isn’t the rest of the world’s fault that they take everything the wrong way. If that’s what happened here, then really RW was to “blame” because of her vain assumption that he must want into her pants.

    We don’t know which of the many, many possible scenarios it was. So let’s agree that it certainly didn’t go as well as it could have.

    @Hypatia’s Daughter
    “Grifter – EG didn’t “speak to a woman who was in the same elevator as him, and said something she didn’t care for”.” Actually, that is a factual statement of events. You include other things, such as him sitting at the bar “at the fringe of the group”. We don’t know if he was drinking and paying little attention to what was going on; RW and you both assume that he MUST have been following her, disregarding that he was also staying there, and that it was 4AM,

    “where he made “the coffee in my room” suggestion. Had it been a coincidence they meet in the elevator, it would have been less creepy. Someone watching you all night then getting up when you do, and following you into an elevator, is almost stalker behavior”. You have nothing to base him “watching her all night” with “almost stalker behavior” on, to my knowledge. The fact that you assume that is, in my opinion, part of the problem.

    “Which, BTW, RW never said was a proposition or that she feared he was a rapist.” I was under the impression that she DID say it was a proposition, but I agree, she never said she feared he was a rapist. I’ve said that about her, several times. A lot of this debate is less about what she said in the first place, and more about what people have said since. She had every right to be creeped out, and to express that. But when she accused another woman who disagreed as being “anti-women”, when her supporters implied EG was a potential rapist, then the conversation took a bad turn.

    “I wouldn’t even conclude that he wanted anything more than to spend a half hour drinking coffee & gazing worshipfuly into her eyes so he could brag to his friends that he met his hero, RW, and spent a half hour drinking coffee & impressing her with his insight into feminism & atheism. Unfortunately, whatever his motivation, he was inconsiderate and clueless of the effect he might have.” — And she made assumptions, too, which I think few people are willing to address. But yes, he was clueless I agree. Inconsiderate I think is shakier, since we don’t know his motivation, nor some very pertinent details that might help demonstrate whether he was really inconsiderate. He did, after all, say “don’t take this the wrong way”, which shows some degree of consideration. I never said he wasn’t awkward or clueless. I just have said multiple times that he’s being demonized for behavior that is not automatically bad, and that it is not morally wrong to be socially awkward. Doesn’t mean he couldn’t learn to be better, just that we shouldn’t dump on him just for being a doofus.

  • Alex

    “Dude in elevator” does not equal dangerous, without something other than “awkward, polite, but creepy proposition”.

    It floors me how many people characterize a sexual proposition after a lengthy discussion why objectification kept women away from atheist conferences and that RW was exhausted and going to bed, as polite. Disrespect is not a courtesy. EG had a nerve to think the opportunity to get with her was greater than her feelings, nevermind the discomfort inherent in the way he approached her as others pointed out alone, in an enclosed space, very late a night. Which is not to say that rape was imminent but that, on top of being tired and annoyed, RW would have been guarded anyway.

    Surely it isn’t insensitive to actual rape victims to point out that what happened to Rebecca wasn’t as bad as what happened to them.

    My sister was raped in college. She passed out drunk in her bed and was sexually assaulted by a friend of her roommate’s boyfriend. She only found out because he’d taken pictures, shown them around, and someone sent them anonymously to her email. When she contacted the police, during one of the interviews, an officer sighed that they’d never be able to soundly prosecute the rape, it’s not like she was a 10 year old molested by her stepdad. Don’t pretend like there’s not a subconciously acceptable set of circumstances to judge what counts as a Real Problem. RW’s encounter speaks to the casual acceptance of men’s entitlement, but unfortunately, some of the other guys here overreact to explanations of privilege, that I wouldn’t know where to start on rape culture to reach open ears. But it is your/our privilege to dismiss lesser disrespect. EG isn’t a singular person, the elevator wasn’t a lone encounter, it’s a pattern in our society that denigrates women’s opinions and experiences for the sake of men’s wants. You are incredibly insensitive to actual rape victims to point out that the small incidents that tacitly condone bigger ones don’t matter.

  • allison

    Rebecca Watson got hit on, it wasn’t sexual abuse. in fact it was nothing more than a stupid decision by a horny guy (the kind that’s happening a million times over at any given moment). But she tries to make it into so much more, this wasn’t a feminist issue, it was an atheism issue, but she turned it into one.

    The thing is, if this was just a single incident it wouldn’t be a feminist issue. It’s more of a cumulative thing. I used to be involved in the atheist movement IRL locally, and the sheer quantity of boundary-pushing actions by men who may or may not have been horny was annoying and pushing the level of astounding. It was enough that I felt the need to bring my husband and keep him close to me at the general meetings. Board-type meetings were better because of the specific people involved. The one national meeting I went to was as bad, and I wasn’t at evening social events.

    When you walk into an environment and are subjected to this stuff (unwanted attention, physical contact even if it’s not sexual in nature, tolerating sexually suggestive remarks about people in the environment within earshot of others) over and over again, if you are not somewhere that is specifically for hooking up then it adds up to a what’s called a hostile environment and that IS a feminist issue.

  • Grifter

    “EG isn’t a singular person, the elevator wasn’t a lone encounter, it’s a pattern in our society that denigrates women’s opinions and experiences for the sake of men’s wants”

    EG IS a singular person. That’s the point, isn’t it? No one has denied that there is a problem in general. I don’t recollect a single person who denied the systemic problem. What I do recollect is a lot of questioning whether THIS SPECIFIC STORY was really as bad as its been made out to be. You CANNOT say “Oh, well, bad circumstances do happen, so therefore this guy was being a misogynist”. That is unfair.

    Remember, as others have brought up, societally it is almost always up to men to make the first move. This means that OF COURSE they are going to make more mistakes when trying to decide when. More than that, we don’t even know for sure he WAS propositioning her. When someone opens with “don’t take this the wrong way” in that context, I would interpret it to mean “Don’t take this to be me being euphemistically asking for sex”. But even if he WAS asking her for sex, the problem is NOT individual asking, it is how women have to put up with a near-constant stream of it. That doesn’t mean that sometimes they might be overly-sensitive, or misread a situation themselves.

    I’m truly bothered by your equation of people questioning this with them not understanding rape culture.

    Rape culture is a REAL problem. No one has denied that on here as far as I know. But when something is stated as part of the problem of rape culture, you have to be prepared for debate. Don’t just say “you don’t get it because of privilege”, EXPLAIN IT. Take the discussion into account without being dismissive of others just because they disagree with you and don’t have the same chromosome.

    “RW’s encounter speaks to the casual acceptance of men’s entitlement” — it also speaks to the casual acceptance of women’s entitlement to make claims without being questioned, apparently. Because if anyone questions whether it’s possible she misread the situation, then they are accused of sexism and privilege.

    The perspective that “your side” seems to not get is that many of us feel that each encounter must be taken on its own merits, while allowing for a problem in aggregate. Just because there is overall a problem does not mean that this situation necessarily was part of it.

    And I’m VERY sorry about what happened to your sister. However, the officer had a point: a 10 year old molested by a stepdad is quite obviously a more ironclad case. Due to the example age there would be no way for it to be anything BUT rape, and of course there’s the incest angle of things. There would not be anything for a defense attorney to work with except to try to say it didn’t happen at all, which if there’s evidence, then there’s nothing really left. In your sister’s case, a defense attorney would likely attempt to make the jury question whether the situation was this (I base this purely on what you’ve typed, there may of course be more to it than you’ve said, however): That they were both really drunk, both consented, and maybe your sister doesn’t remember, but that doesn’t make it rape. Just from your story, I believe she was raped and it’s not that they were blackout drunk. However, a defense attorney might in principle be able to create enough doubt in the mind of the jury to hit that “reasonable doubt” threshold despite evidence that sex happened. Hence, the case is unfortunately not as open and shut as the cop’s 10-year-old example. That is not rape culture, that’s a judicial system with benefit of the doubt as its threshold. However, I agree some members of the jury might believe that she “deserved it” for getting drunk and “putting herself in that situation”. That IS rape culture, and a problem. Again, I in no way want to diminish your sister’s story, I just don’t see the cop’s comment as NECESSARILY a problem with rape culture. Now, if he said that the 10yearold was more ironclad “Because the jury’ll think you deserved it”, that’s different.

  • Hitch

    Allison, I do think we really have to make the environment comfortable.

    Clearly there are things that can and should be done, in various ways, and it could include a range of things from just making it clear that conferences are not intended for that purpose, and perhaps offer a socalizing event for those who still want to have that purpose etc.

    I think one can recognize the problem and make the environment such that it does make it less problematic.

    People have discussed stickers, and wrist bands. I think there are plenty of ideas to be had to indeed make conventions enjoyable for everybody.

    And yes there is a broader societal issue that sticks its head out in the way you describe it. We do need a discourse on this, but perhaps we can do that without demonizing each other too much.

    I think you’ve articulated the problem about as well as I have it articulated. I really appreciate that. I think that’s how people can hear it much better than dropping words such as privilege, anti-woman and so forth, thought ultimately the underlying real problems people point to are actually the same.

    (Sorry a bit rambly here, no time to edit)

  • http://withinthismind.com/ Kinda Strange

    There is such a thing as werewolves. They look like perfectly ordinary human beings, save that on average, they are larger and stronger than you are. But still, they are kind of hard to pick out of a crowd because they do look like an ordinary person.

    There are a few minor tells. Werewolves tend to be a bit more aggressive than people. They are prone to invading your personal space, and feel entitled to take things out of your hands. They have a tendency to ignore or deliberately misinterpret subtle social cues. They are occasionally blatant about their desire to eat you. Often they’ll demand something from you first, to make you easier prey. A conversation or a token, some interaction so they can get a feel for how you’ll taste. If the slightest opportunity exists, they’ll try to get you back to their dens.

    And, should they not get their way, they turn into raging, ferocious beasts that can overpower you with little effort and savage you. Their fellow werewolves will howl and cheer, making a ferocious racket to remind everyone else that they too, at any time, could be the victim of a werewolf.

    Your only hope, when dealing with a werewolf, is to have a means of escape (and don’t forget, werewolves are often quite good at tracking their prey!) or to hope that there are enough bystanders nearby that will come to your aid to drive the werewolf away.

    It’s hard, living in that kind of fear. To know that the person sitting next to you on the bus could turn out to be a werewolf. And let’s not forget, lycanthropy is contagious. Someone you’ve known and trusted, even loved, for years could very well turn into a werewolf. And you’ll never know, until it is too late.

    Because they look like perfectly ordinary people.

    Imagine it. Think on it long, and hard. Think of how you would feel, day to day, knowing that the next person walking up to you could be a werewolf. Could be a person just looking for directions. But it could be a werewolf. Until the fangs and fur come out, all you have to go on is that they look just like an ordinary person approaching you. And once the fangs and fur come out….it’s too late.

    Silver and crosses are no guarantee. Might drive some types of werewolves off, but it attracts others. Werewolves aren’t limited to darkness or the full moon, either. Everyone will encounter a werewolf in their lives. At least one in six fail to escape from their encounters unscathed. Could be as many as one in thirty people are werewolves.

    What kind of terror would you live in, if there were werewolves?

    Would you be uncomfortable if someone approached you, without invitation, and invited you back to their den for a taste?

  • allison

    Thanks, Hitch. I do think we need to deal with the issue as a community, and I agree that people can hear the message much more clearly without emotionally charged words such as privilege and anti-woman. These words tend to be emotional triggers. There are emotional triggers coming from the other side of the argument as well, because emotions are highly charged.

    I am somewhat encouraged. The larger subject of this problem in the community gets addressed from time to time online. Despite many loud, emotional voices, each time I see more calm, rational voices appearing and acknowledging that this is a problem that needs solving. Change is not immediate, but I think we’re getting closer to the time when conference organizers and local group leaders will help it along.

  • Nordog

    Kinda strange indeed.

  • anon No 23
  • Barb

    This is absurd! The guy didn’t do anything to her! Nothing! (mind you; this is coming from born feminist). By my estimation the woman in this scenario is the sexist one & SHE is the one who ought to be having her rep slandered for it. She took one look, saw that it was a man & assumed “potential rapist”. That, my friends is sexist, that is one of the things holding back equality. Not every man is a rapist/pedophile/jerk, perhaps this “Skeptic” could learn to be skeptical about that stereotype before she’s given the mike at, or even invited to, another conference.

  • Grifter

    Barb, RW never said the dude was a potential rapist to my knowledge. She said, in a video, that he creeped her out, made her uncomfortable, because he made what she perceived as a sexual pass.

    What she did at the talk, which was supposed to be about the religious right’s treatment of women, was point out a woman in the audience who disagreed with her as “anti-women”.

  • Jim

    So late. Damn all you commenters. Damn you all!

  • MakeTheMostOfLife

    Wow, so many bitter attacks on the many threads.

    I’m on Richard Dawkins side. He called it a non-event, but my feeling would be a position based on something slightly stronger.

    This event was a compliment even though it wasn’t apparently given particularly well.

    I have been lucky all my life. I’m no model, but I’m attractive enough on looks alone to have been chatted up by woman a lot of times over the years. I have been annoyed as well by drunk woman.

    My brother, was not a good looking man and could never develop any confidence because of it. I saw the pain he went through, dreaming every day for a girlfriend, suffering all through his teens and his 20s. He didn’t get his first girlfriend till he was 25. He is happily married now, but he had a much harder life in a way that I could never experience.

    The crucial point is that I have had the benefit of a lottery of looks where as he did not.

    People are accusing Richard Dawkins of abusing his privileged position, but I think he is right and the woman who mentioned what she did in her speech abused her privileged position, of looks.

    Any woman that is lucky enough in looks to be attractive enough to be hit on by guys should be thankful for the big picture and not complain about little downsides.

    Many attractive woman get a free ride though life on there looks.

    There will be millions of woman who have never been hit on by a guy in there lives, because they just got unlucky genes.

    Given hindsight, If you could be reborn and actually choose either:

    Be really ugly

    or

    Be really beautiful (But have to deal with occasional pest)

    Everyone would choose to be good looking because the benefits FAR out-way the downsides.

    An analogy is like someone who is born lucky enough to have lots of different food available to eat complaining about having a bad meal once in a while, right in front of people who were born staving and spend their lives living on crumbs.

    I think this is Richard Dawkins whole point and I agree.

  • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

    Silver and crosses are no guarantee. Might drive some types of werewolves off, but it attracts others. Werewolves aren’t limited to darkness or the full moon, either. Everyone will encounter a werewolf in their lives. At least one in six fail to escape from their encounters unscathed. Could be as many as one in thirty people are werewolves.

    What kind of terror would you live in, if there were werewolves?

    None. I’d find out what was the most effective way to deal with werewolves, make sure I could implement it as needed, accept that I still might lose, and go on with my life.

    I might get eaten, I might not. But the possibility, not even PROBABILITY of harm is not going to make me live in fear for my entire life.

  • heidi h

    Okay I’ve come to this issue through feminist websites and I nearly made it to the end of the comments without..you know…commenting, and then I saw “Make The Most Of Life” espouse the lovely Sexual Harassment As Complement yarn, ignoring that many people who are not conventionally attractive are indeed sexually attacked every day and that rape is about power and not about attraction and i thought it was time for this:

    http://amptoons.com/debate/2010/08/30/cartoon-street-harassment/

    BTW, there are a lot of atheist dudebros giving atheists a bad name in wider circles. While I’m happy to see other awesome atheists (women and men) countering these Doodly Opinions (way to represent, peeps!), I think that, on balance, my first exposure to the atheist movement is offputting enough that, although I find your ideas interesting and would like to subscribe to your newsletter, I would not touch your movement with a 10 foot cross. Hope that with more time, discussion, and learning, this kind of thing will change. Keep up the good fight, Awesome Atheists! Boo, Doodly Ones.

  • Barb

    Grifter: What she did, from everything I’ve read/seen of the story was get offended & slander a man over an offer of coffee & conversation (as well as slandering the woman in the audience, as you mentioned). “Would you like to have some coffee” should not automatically be taken as hitting on someone, in fact I would regard her reaction as evidence of her over-sexualizing her own self image, as though no man would want to talk to her unless sex were to be involved. That is not feminism; it’s man-hating.

  • Grifter

    @barb:

    I mostly agree with you (though I think “slander” might be a bit harsh an adjective for her stated EG comments…for her treatment of Stef that’s probably fair). I certainly agree with the rest of what you said. I just wanted to make it clear that, to my knowledge, she did not make claims of him being a potential rapist. She may be faulted for allowing many of her supporters to say it without comment, but she, to my knowledge, didn’t say it. As much as I do find fault with her actions, at the same time it’s still important to not exaggerate or misrepresent what she has done. I wasn’t trying to disagree with your larger point, just to correct the small thing that, to my knowledge, was a bit incorrect.

  • Addison

    Hemant:

    Excellent post. Your tone is calm, and your article a voice of sanity in a storm of too much crazy, knee-jerk reactions. Thank you.

  • Alex

    EG IS a singular person. That’s the point, isn’t it? No one has denied that there is a problem in general. I don’t recollect a single person who denied the systemic problem. What I do recollect is a lot of questioning whether THIS SPECIFIC STORY was really as bad as its been made out to be. You CANNOT say “Oh, well, bad circumstances do happen, so therefore this guy was being a misogynist”. That is unfair.

    Strawman. I never said EG was a misogynist, just that nobody ever blames one snowflake for an avalanche. EG’s disrespectful behavior is part of a greater problem of men’s superior attitudes towards women in our culture as you can very well see demonstrated in comments here.

    Her discomfort doesn’t have to extend to – OMG, ALL MEN ARE RAPISTS, don’t share an elevator with me or talk to me if you have a penis! RW’s discomfort is over not being able to go about her business in an environment with a skewed male/female ratio without attracting unwanted attention for having a vagina. Sure, it sucks in your heteronormative culture men are still expected to make the first move. But instead of flipping out that sometimes women don’t want you to make a move at all, be mindful of the circumstances. This isn’t about EG’s subjective attractiveness or relative social finesse. RW’s first video intended to help your chances with women by saying that being approached alone, in an enclosed space, at 4am, by a stranger, after discussing several times throughout the day problems with objectification, is not the right way to hit on a woman. Period. This should be common sense. Instead there’s a huge backlash that it’s not like she was raped, she probably hates men anyway, sexual harassment is a compliment, she’s being unfair that guys can’t help themselves, because you know one woman who wouldn’t be offended in that situation RW must be hysterical (“I can’t be racist because I have a black friend!”), etc.

    Funny enough Richard Dawkins missed the point entirely in his analogy that Middle Eastern women as well as Western women, for all their individual freedoms, are still held responsible as a group for how men act towards them.

  • Alex

    Any woman that is lucky enough in looks to be attractive enough to be hit on by guys should be thankful for the big picture and not complain about little downsides.

    OH PLEASE! Just like the person who mentioned a sexy picture Rebecca Watson once took of herself to argue that she has no right to complain about being hit on when she’s not presenting herself as available, I am flabbergasted some of the other guys here are this unware and ignorant of old sexist tropes. Come on! Educate yourself instead of defending bad behavior.

  • http://nathandst.blogspot.com Nathan DST aka LucienBlack

    @Hitch:

    Your comments here and at Butterflies and Wheels regarding who approaches who in potential romantic or sexual liaisons in our culture intrigue me, but it doesn’t seem to me that you’ve been able to get any traction on starting a discussion about that. If you wanted, I’d be happy to give you a chance to try starting that discussion separate from the ElevatorGate issues over at Occasionally, I think as a guest post. I don’t get much traffic, but the offer is there if you want it.

    If you’re interested, contact me via email at nathandst (at) gmail (dot) com. Or Twitter, @NathanDST.

    Hemant, I hope you don’t mind me doing this, but I couldn’t see any other way to contact Hitch. Feel free to delete if you don’t approve.

  • Grifter

    @Alex, you said “EG isn’t a singular person, the elevator wasn’t a lone encounter, it’s a pattern in our society that denigrates women’s opinions and experiences for the sake of men’s wants” — It is not a strawman to say that you brought up an entire system that is a problem (which, I must now amend thanks to makethemostoflife, NOT MANY people disagree with). Not many people (and certainly I don’t) disagree that there is a general problem with the manner women are being treated. The problem some of us have is two-fold, and relates to the fact that we are not talking about the GENERAL CONCEPTS, but rather the SPECIFIC EXAMPLE before us:

    1, it is not clear that EG was hitting on her in the first place. I understand she FELT he was, and far be it from me to say she is not allowed to her feelings, or even to express them. However, for many of us her story, taken at face value, doesn’t indicate she was hit on. When someone opens a conversation by saying “don’t take this the wrong way”, it usually doesn’t mean “I’m about to proposition you”. If I were to say “don’t take this the wrong way, but there’s a huge sausage over there”, would you think I mean “there is literally a sausage, which is huge, over in the direction I indicate”, or “There’s a huge penis over there”? And if you thought I meant the second, and felt uncomfortable that I was talking about penises (when I wasn’t), but you didn’t say anything about your discomfort to me at the time, and instead posted online about how you wished people would stop talking about penises all the time, how would that seem? Even if many people were talking about penises, wouldn’t this seem a poor example of that? Many of us feel the situation here is analogous, and some of us feel it points to a broader problem in SOME (please note the emphasis on some; certainly not all women behave in this way) women’s thinking: They get hit on all the time, so they start to interpret all conversation from a man as hitting on them, so then they feel they’re hit on even more, which reinforces their thinking that every time a man speaks to them he’s hitting on them. Thanks to the fact Star Trek is in the Instant Netflix now, it’s on my mind and so I’ve dubbed it the Luwaxana Troi effect (I’ll not get into my geekery too deeply, except to say that she’s a Star Trek character, a telepath, who due to a biological change of life started accusing every man she encountered of thinking dirty thoughts about her, even when they weren’t). There is anecdotal evidence to this effect regarding SOME women; it has to my knowledge never been studied, so anecdote is all we have, unfortunately. If he wasn’t hitting on her, then “RW’s discomfort is over not being able to go about her business in an environment with a skewed male/female ratio without attracting unwanted attention for having a vagina.” is actually “RW assumes that a person with a penis who speaks to her only does it because she has a vagina”.

    2, Even if he was hitting on her, although it is a problem that women are constantly bothered, because we are talking about many different men doing it, it is never harassment on the singular level. People misread signals, it happens. To say “it’s never okay to hit on a woman on an elevator at 4AM” is simply not true; some women have posted here and elsewhere that it wouldn’t have bothered THEM, so EG is not totally off base, just as regards to this specific person. We would expect a certain degree of common sense regarding context and the person, yes, which EG, if he WAS hitting on her, doesn’t seem to have displayed(another reason for some of us to think he wasn’t hitting on her), however, to assume misogyny (or, if you don’t think you’ve asserted this, assuming that he “denigrates women’s opinions and experiences for the sake of [his] wants”) does not seem to follow. Hitch makes the most good points on this subject (And makes them better than I could).

    What does seem obvious in light of all of this, for anyone it might not have been before, is that gender politics and interaction are fucked up right now. There are those on the feminist side who equate anyone who questions a circumstance to rape apologists, and call anyone who doens’t agree with them misogynist or anti-women, or any of another dozen offensive things, while on the other side, there are those who think only attractive women are bothered and it’s offset by the benefits of being attractive, or that she “deserved” being objectified because of some racy photos on the internet, or any of another dozen offensive things. Both sides have people being unfair, and even people being “mostly fair” with blind spots. And I think we all should probably agree that we all might have blind spots.

    And at this point, I don’t think it matters if EG was trying to hit on her, or not. It doesn’t matter whether EVERY tale of “I got hit on” is true, or EVERY one false. What matters is that women feel uncomfortable at these things, which prevents them from coming. And the question is simply how to fix that. Without assigning blame (“Dudes just need to not hit on the opposite sex! If only they weren’t so misogynist!” versus “Women need to stop assuming every dude wants their V!”).

    Which is why I think, sad as it may be, that some sort of system really needs to be put into place. It has been mentioned before by folks who write better than me. With a band system, or a whatever system, there no longer needs to be any benefit of the doubt, and no interpretation of signals. Gender politics don’t have to come into play, because there is no question what someone’s up for. So long as violations of the system are soundly criticized (whether it’s someone talking to a person showing Red, or a person showing red chatting to a person), it might work. If RW had been showing “no talk”, then EG would have been objectively in the wrong for trying to strike up a conversation, and if she’s been showing “up for meaningless sex” then he could have just said that without any euphemism if that’s what he was after, and she really shouldn’t be mad about it. Granted, it won’t stop all miscommunication, but I think it also might have the side effect of making people more likely to call someone out on their behavior. I mentioned it on another thread, I think, but if she’d been wearing, say, yellow, and yellow meant “Talk away but don’t hit on me”, and the system was working, I feel it would be more likely she would say “What, are you color blind, or just an asshole?”, which would have given him the chance to say explain that he was misunderstood in his intentions or that he was being a douchebag.

  • Alex

    To say “it’s never okay to hit on a woman on an elevator at 4AM” is simply not true;

    Strawman.

    If RW had been showing “no talk”, then EG would have been objectively in the wrong for trying to strike up a conversation, and if she’s been showing “up for meaningless sex” then he could have just said that without any euphemism if that’s what he was after, and she really shouldn’t be mad about it.

    An absurd proposal. RW already showed “no talk” by telling her companions, which EG was apart of, she was tired and going to bed. Why does he deserve the benefit of the doubt she, apparently, does not? “Don’t take this the wrong way,” the way I take it, is that EG thinks of himself as a nice guy and didn’t want her to assume he was an opportunistic horndog just because he wanted to have sex with her. Nice guys like sex too. That’s okay. But his saying pretty please? first cannot be a blanket apology for the offense of poor timing at best. For fuck’s sake. It is not up to women to switch on a light above their head to signal their availability to you. What is so hard about listening to someone?

  • Grifter

    Not a strawman; people on this site and elsewhere have SPECIFICALLY SAID THAT. In fact, that’s pretty much what RW said.

    And actually, to my understanding, RW said he WASN’T part of the conversation, only that he was also in the bar. That was part of her issue, that he hadn’t been part of the conversation at all but felt he could talk to her.

    You’ve also disregarded my analogy completely.

    And: “Why does he deserve the benefit of the doubt she, apparently, does not?” — Because in polite discourse, usually you don’t assume the other person’s being an asshole unless it is obvious. When someone talks to me, I don’t immediately assume they must be trying to mug me. If someone says “don’t take this the wrong way, but that’s a nice watch”, I don’t assume that they’re demanding my watch. That’s what she did, she assumed he MUST be talking about sex, when the words as she described them do not seem to be a pass. You’re free to disagree, but please give me reasons to not take his words, as reported by her, at face value?

    And for the record, you don’t give the “accuser” the benefit of the doubt, it is generally reserved for the accused. In this case he was accused of hitting on RW by RW. She never accused him of being a rapist, or of being a monster, but she did accuse him of objectifying her. When she told us how he “objectified” her, the words as she reported them did not seem to be objectification, nor even a pass, to me. And bear in mind I am taking all the things RW said at face value. I am understand she felt the way she says she felt, but what I don’t understand is why she made the same assumption you seem to have made, and why she didn’t say something right then and there, which might have prevented this whole shitstorm in the first place.

    “An absurd proposal.”

    — what, wristbands? Then suggest something better than “Be perceptive.” Because not everyone is perceptive, and more than that, even perceptive people can make mistakes. It doesn’t address the overarching problem.

    “Don’t take this the wrong way,” the way I take it, is that EG thinks of himself as a nice guy and didn’t want her to assume he was an opportunistic horndog just because he wanted to have sex with her.”

    Really? Why? I’m being serious, because that’s not what those words mean to me. So please explain why you’re taking it that way.

    ” Nice guys like sex too. That’s okay. But his saying pretty please?” Ahem, to quote you: Strawman.

    “first cannot be a blanket apology for the offense of poor timing at best.” — again, presuming he was asking for sex. Also, you’re saying poor timing is an offense? God forbid some guy have bad timing, because then he’s a misogyinist?

    ” For fuck’s sake. It is not up to women to switch on a light above their head to signal their availability to you.” — No. But for them to call it misogyny or “objectification” when someone gets it wrong is ridiculous. “What is so hard about listening to someone?” Apparently, it’s very hard. Because everyone brings their own interpretations of every situation to the table. To some people, “don’t take this the wrong way” means “don’t interpret this to mean an offensive thing”, and to others “don’t take this the wrong way” means “pretty please say yes to the sex proposition I’m about to make to you.” Who’s right? Who’s fault is it? It’s not like RW said anything to EG at the time that might have cleared it up, no, instead she posted on her blog about how she was objectified at a conference.

    Women are not psychic. Men are not psychic. And therefore, when people communicate, there will be problems. Which is why I proposed a solution (didn’t say it was the best solution), and proposed we stop trying to lay blame. Because honestly I could blame RW for a LOT of things, but I’m tired of arguing about whether it’s appropriate to assume every man is always talking about sex if there’s any way it could be interpreted to mean sex, or whether it’s appropriate to use a talk you’ve been invited to to instead bully an attendee. I’m tired of defending myself against charges of rape apology for daring to question a story that has nothing to do with rape.

    You don’t fix the problem by saying “well, it’s all men’s fault because they’re always demanding sex from women” any more than you fix the problem by saying “it’s all women’s fault for being oversensitive.”

    The problems are NOT as simple as “Men need to stop hitting on women”. I responded to someone’s points, and then suggested a solution, because us bickering all day about a single example serves no purpose in the long run. I will not, apparently, convince you to take the words as they were spoken (according to RW), and I doubt you will be able to convince me that “don’t take this the wrong way” generally means “I’m about to ask you for sex”(but I welcome you to try, using an actual argument for why the words should be taken that way). Unless and until EG speaks up, there is an impasse here about what he meant. That still doesn’t address Hitch’s points, nor does it come up with a constructive solution, since you find the wristbands idea “absurd”.

  • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

    I saw a few points in RW’s original bit on this, some I agreed with, some I didn’t.

    I do think she has a valid point about how relentless the hitting on can be. This isn’t just atheist conferences, it happens like a motherfucker at tech conferences too, and it is really offputting. A week of nigh-continual passes is tiring. Her point that this kind of thing really should not be as common or at such high levels is one that as a conference organizer at times, I agree with.

    I’m not going to say she was wrong to feel creepy. Her worldview, she gets to feel how she feels. I think the “Don’t take this the wrong was” makes it highly probable that EG realized what he was about to say could be taken as a pass, and since he didn’t meant it as such, was using that phrase to acknowledge that and set it aside.

    I agree that 4am is not the best time. Even for someone with a backwards circadian rhythm, i’m not at my best at 4am. Asking her if she wanted to meet for coffee in the morning and giving her his cell number without asking for hers so she had the option of texting him or ignoring him would have been somewhat better. But again, 4am, brain no worky so good.

    I disagree somewhat about the elevator. If nothing else, it works to her advantage, as she can refuse without embarrassing either of them in public, and if they choose, it never happened, no harm no foul. I can see where an elevator can also be viewed as a bad area to talk to someone you don’t know, but the idea that you should never talk to a woman in an elevator, or, as i’ve seen, never even get ON an elevator with an unaccompanied woman is really over the top. Absolute positions like that simply don’t jibe with reality.

    Her behavior afterwards has been an ever-escalating tide of abuse of her speaker’s position and New Media Douchebag attention-whoring. By her behavior, it’s pretty obvious to me that if she decides that she needs to make a point by crapping on you in public, she shall, and if you don’t like it, tough tuchas.

  • Fiasco

     Rebecca Watson was happy to play the part of a calendar pin-up girl and pose nude in her provocative skepchick calendar. In her blog she also lusts like a schoolgirl over some TV movie hunk she proclaims to the world she’d ‘do’. Then she announces she doesn’t want men to sexualize her. I’d be happy to continue ignoring her if I could. Thing is she didn’t even seem that put out about the whole elevator thing till the hardcore feminists started shrilling – then she seized that and was happy to use it to raise her profile. Says as much about her that this is the ‘contribution’ what she’ll be best remembered for.

  • http://profiles.google.com/tbourqueulc Thomas Bourque

    Can this whole pile of manure just go away now?

    • http://twitter.com/thetimchannel Tim Fuller

      If only it were that simple.  When you have a person like RW, who lacks any other skillset than dedicated hanger-on, what else can she do to gain attention?  Now the American Girlyban are pointing fingers not at some unknown elevator guy, but at the SPEAKERS of the conferences.  I would tell you who is doing the abusing, but it is a closely guarded secret of the inner sanctum of unofficially allied Girlyban operatives.  You will just have to assume (as I do) that it is PZ Myers doing all the sexual harassing and they are all too scared to confront him.

      Enjoy.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_CSKIZXXZNPGJV62ICPRSPBAG2I CG

    Don’t you think Christians are “uncomfortable” listening to atheists? The right to free speech makes no mention on its “comfort” effect on others . I’ve decided  that the greatest threats to my liberty are the religious right and the politically correct left. Both think it is perfectly reasonable to make up rules as they go and enforce them thru public bullying and vilification. Your judgment on who is creep and who isn’t is not relevant.  If you don’t like the laws pass new ones and have them enforced and knock off the thought police nonsense.

  • http://openid.anonymity.com/3tEmepaj ds

    Nice to see some fair and balanced positions on all this. My view is quite similar I guess, except that perhaps I do  “downplay” a bit the elevator situation. Not that I don’t think Watson hadn’t the right to find it creepy or that she shouldn’t have made a video about that (albeit it has a point). I actually started out “on her “side””, knowing only that she had mentioned that there had been that creepy moment and that Dawkins answered with the “it’s unreasonable to be fearful of rape in an elevator” and dear muslima” messages, which, albeit the latter one has quite a lot of truth in it, I thought it was totally unnecessary.

    I “downplay” it only in the sense that in no way possible it justifies all the comotion that came after that. Even if Dawkins’ comments were totally out of the blue, not preceded by some extra drama and whining that came after Watson’s video. It would be, “ok, Dawkins is kinda idiot sometimes, but anyway, life goes on”. But it seems that it was initially blown out of proportion, as if the elevator incident was symptom of some overarching misogyny/rape culture on the western world or in the atheist community. Then Dawkins’ “dear muslima” message has a context that really validates it.

    The elevator incident is not the symptom the huge problem of the oppression of women in the twentieth first century. It’s just that some guys who need some advice.   Perhaps a bit more
    deeper than just “don’t do that”, focusing more on what to do instead. It can be a annoyance for women, indeed, it’s then a “trouble” that women face, and women have all the right to talk about, and complain, but it only connects very weakly with anything really serious, like actual rape or anything else, and everyone is right (and non-misogynist) to point that such link is a tremendous exaggeration. It’s almost the female equivalent of wondering whether he should pay for the date or not, and how to figure it out. It’s not really that women are “privileged” and men are “oppressed” by this issue, which somehow connects with the fact that men are at a higher risk of dying at work for supporting their wives and so on in an immense conspiracy to oppress men. I
    find disturbing that it didn’t ended just on “advice for men and women on how to interact with the opposite sex without being creepy or overreacting”, but instead on this
    “let’s boycott Dawkins” thing and all that and whatever drama that
    preceded it, and that still follows.

    This is by far the most ridiculous thing I’ve seen happen in the “atheist community”. I don’t know who’s to blame exactly, if it was feminists who blew the elevator happening out of proportion, or that “others” (people who don’t label themselves as feminists, even though they might well fit the dictionary description) who interpreted Watson’s video as if she was actually saying that she almost got raped and overreacted to this supposed overreaction. But does not matter, perhaps it was both. What’s important is that it has to stop.

    Someone should make a decree on “let us not talk about any of the past events anymore, let us  suspend the ban on Dawkins’ books, and let us just discuss etiquette and how men and women should interact and interpret each other interactions. How men can avoid `sexualizing´ women, and whether or not sometimes it is not even happening, but the women may just assume that it was the case, overreact. Men, you’d get better reactions if you proceed by  doin this and this instead of that, and women, do this, that and don’t hurry to judge the behavior of men as a whole”.

     

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SU3L6O6MNAPXLBIGJGEX5NW5UQ jqb

    ” there’s a chance … It doesn’t matter if that’s rare”: rationality — ur doin it rong.

    “Jen was right to say he’s exhibiting “male privilege.”” — No, that’s an ad hominem fallacy, and in this context it’s an example of what might be called “victim’s privilege”, the idea that only victims can talk about certain subjects, or that what they say is necessarily true. And the consequence of of numerous rational egalitarians who happen to hold a contrary opinion being called misogynists and “gender traitors” is quite predictable.

    • Jess

       So you’re saying that men are also constantly sizing up the people around them, and the locations and situations they’re in in order to determine the likelihood that they may be raped? Because that’s one of the aspects of male privilege which a man does not have to worry about in his day to day life the way that a woman does and has been conditioned to do. You can pretend that this is not an aspect of reality, but again, that’s because you don’t face the scenario in your daily life so it’s easier for you to ignore it. If you choose to take the concept of privilege as a personal insult it speaks on your ability to be rational and not the other way around. Just as if you take someone’s advice on how not to creep out a woman as a declaration that you’re a rapist, you are also being irrational.

  • Jess

    So now Dawkins uses two major derailing techniques, “Don’t You Have More Important Issues To Think About”  and follows it up with the ever classic tone arugment, “You Are Damaging Your Cause By Being Angry” How else does he plan on missing the point entirely and further derailing an important discussion?


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