Accounting for Accumulation

This is a guest post by frequent commenter Claudia.

Yes, I know the prospect of yet another post on sexism within the atheist community, along with its accompanying civil and productive comments thread, fills you with joy and enthusiasm. So prepare to rejoice!

In a previous post, Hemant mentioned women being frequently “propositioned for sex” within the movement. Of course, it was a part of a much larger point of women feeling devalued, or valued exclusively as sexual objects, while having their ideas disregarded. No matter, as reliably as ever, the general was discarded in favor of the specific, and a very long dissection of “propositioning” ensued.

However besides the inevitable individuals who will never admit that women are not asking for “special treatment,” or that there is even the possibility that their assumptions of what women should feel are wrong, I did see genuine confusion over an honest question: Is approaching a woman you’re interested in at a conference/meet-up by itself a sexist act?

I can’t speak for all women, of course, but I’m pretty sure I speak for at least some when I say that it’s a matter of accumulation.

Being propositioned (which can range from flattering to deeply creepy/frightening, depending on the approach) or flirted with at a conference will not make most women feel devalued. Being propositioned several times, or feeling like most men only approach you for the purpose of getting in your pants, can.

Likewise, having an idea of yours not taken seriously can offend you, but you’re not necessarily going to make the jump and assume your gender has anything to do with it. However, if you see that guys expressing similar ideas are taken seriously, and/or you observe or hear from other women who frequently feel dismissed, the pattern can hurt.

You know how when you meet a man named Dick you refrain from making dick jokes because you assume they’ve heard a lot of them before, and whatever you were thinking would be more annoying to hear than funny? The same thing applies to (many) women in the community. They’ve been in situations where they were sexualized to the exclusion of anything else of value they could contribute. They’ve felt passed over, diminished or valued merely as “cute.” They will know what it’s like to be scolded about “oversensitivity” for expressing discomfort. They will have heard stories from other women of the same thing happening to them. That doesn’t make you “bad” or “misogynistic” for wanting to flirt; it just means that each individual action does not happen in a vacuum, and your words and actions will be added to a pre-existing pile of experiences that the person you are speaking to has had.

Assuming you care about the comfort of the person you are speaking to, keeping that in mind when interacting with others can be enormously helpful. So can understanding that an atmosphere is not made up of an individual action or word, but an accumulation of experiences, big and small, that can make you feel at ease and welcomed, or the opposite. That makes solving the problem harder of course, but I still think it’s worth trying.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Jessica Brill

    THIS!!!!!!!!

    Everything she said also applies in any situation where there’s an overwhelming majority of any kind (ethnicity, sexual preference, gender, etc.)

  • http://thefloatinglantern.wordpress.com/ Tim Martin

    Well put! Anything can get old if you hear it too many times.

  • Keaton Stagaman

    “[...]each individual action does not happen in a vacuum, and your words and actions will be added to a pre-existing pile of experiences that the person you are speaking to has had.”
    Couldn’t have said it better myself.  This really gets at the heart of why this is a community problem, and why I get so annoyed with those who pick apart each individual grievance to explain why it’s not that bad. 

    • Travshad

      We can only judge someone for the incident in which they were involved.  I will not blame someone for being the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back”.  If the actions of the person involved in the “individual grievance”  aren’t “that bad”, I don’t think it is reasonable to judge them more harshly because of what other people outside their knowledge or control may have also done. 

      An individual’s actions should be judged  on what that person actually did based on the knowledge that they had at the time. 

      • Anonymous

        Who’s ‘judging’ them?   We’re merely talking about some general helpful advice to consider when interacting with others.

        • EJC

          Helpful advice according to whom?

          That truly does seem to be the rub, double entendre intended.

          But if you are claiming to be the source of the helpful advice, what special quality is it that you and your posse possess that endows you with the Laticia Baldrige powers of etiquette.

          Sincerely, besides having a vag, what special qualities do you and yours possess that makes you assume you are the advice barometer here for the “proper behavior”?

          • http://www.facebook.com/Tracy.Bradley1 Tracy Bradley

            I always thought having a vag was enough. Damn.

  • Godless Heathen

    YES. This is so important and it’s a big part of the problem. Thanks for stating it to so clearly and succinctly.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=591058715 Thomas Farrell

    Preface: I’m gay. As a rule, I *don’t* flirt with women.

    > Being propositioned (which can range
    > from flattering to deeply
    > creepy/frightening,
    > depending on the approach) or
    > flirted with at a conference will
    > not make most women feel
    > devalued. Being propositioned
    > several times, or feeling like
    > most men only approach you
    > for the purpose of getting
    > in your pants, can.

    So, if a man wants to flirt with / proposition you, he should psychically know whether it has happened before in order to be able to determine if it will/won’t make you uncomfortable?

    You seem to be implying that men should not flirt with / proposition women at atheist events, because men should just *assume* that based on womens’ previous experences it would make women uncomfortable. You realize, I hope, that if this rule is implemented all it will do is ensure that nice guys who care about how women feel will not hit on you, so the guys who do hit on you will be the not nice ones who don’t care how you feel. Of course, that might make your life easier by ensuring that you can casually dismiss any guy who approaches you, but it will also ensure that nice atheist women and nice atheist men can’t meet at atheist events.

    Look, I’m a *gay* man, and posts like yours make me creeped out about the idea of even talking with women in public, for fear they’re going to think I’m hitting on them and get upset about it. When you say things like:

    > They will know what it’s like to be scolded about
    > “oversensitivity” for expressing discomfort.

    …it doesn’t help me feel any less concerned. I’m the guy you could very easily have on your side: I have no sexual interest in women, I completely see women as people, I never objectify women, I don’t want anything out of women beyond simple friendship, and I have frequently spoken out about civil rights of and treatment of women. But the amount of “atheist men are bad and aren’t thinking about how they make women feel” postings across pretty much all atheist online venues have really put me off, to the point that I’ve stopped reading a lot of atheist blogs because I’m sick to death of it. Maybe you should give some thought to how and why you’re pushing away your supporters.

    • Mike

      Perhaps flirting and propositioning shouldn’t commence until some semblance of conversation has taken place and a modicum of mutual attraction has been identified?

      • Michael

        How do you identify attraction without doing anything that can be deemed flirting?

        • Mike

          By having an actual conversation.

          • Michael

            If the conversation steers into matters of attraction, that’s flirting.

            • Mike

              Yeah, so?

              If both of you are engaging in that conversation, feel free to pursue it further.  If you’re the one driving it into matters of attraction and your partner is recoiling, you need to stop and simply have a conversation. 

              • Michael

                So, either you’re flirting or you’re not. Your advice said to flirt before you flirt, which is impossible.

                • Mike

                  No, you said what if the conversation steers into matters of attraction, not begins at them.  That’s a big difference.  Don’t you see it?  You do know how to simply have a conversation with someone, don’t you?

                • Michael

                  No. You said have a conversation to identify a modicum of mutual attraction. That kind of conversation is usually referred to as flirting. If you meant something else then please say what you meant.

                • Mike

                  I’m sorry if you took it that way, but I said have a conversation.  Then, if you identify mutual attraction, pursue that.

                  The point of the conversation is to have a conversation.   If your intentions are otherwise, you’re likely to cause trouble.

                  Haven’t you seen “The Tao of Steve”?

          • EJC

            Oh right…the first thing you notice about a woman is her ability to chat you up….what BS.

            Just be honest, if the looks aren’t there, it really doesn’t matter if you are talking to the female Shakespeare, we are drawn to looks first.

            Personality is great, and it is a needed component, but if the attraction and looks aren’t there in the first place, the personality and conversation doesn’t matter. Anyone who says otherwise is full of shit.

            • Mike

              When did I, or anyone else in this thread, say that you should ignore looks?

              However, I think you’ve just stumbled upon your issue here.  Apparently anytime you have a conversation with a woman, it’s because you’re somewhat attracted to them and are at least partially exploring the possibility of sex.  What you apparently fail to understand is that some people, including the women you’re conversing with are only interested in conversation (even if they find you attractive).

              There’s nothing inherently wrong with starting a conversation with the aim of seeking sex, but if the other person is not interested in that, you should be able to quickly pick that up and stop the flirting.  Other humans don’t have all the same feelings and motivations as you.  If you understand that and can act accordingly, super!, this article wasn’t aimed at you.

              • Anonymous

                Watch it Mike, such reasonableness might be a ‘challenge’ for some :)

                • EJC

                  Hi my little lurker friend…so glad to see you again!

                  You flatter me, hovering and waiting to respond to my posts.

                  I love you. Let us not deny this bond any further. I propose we get married, your post suggests you are a woman, but at this point, does it really matter? 

                  Our bond is too strong to be denied, man/man,  or man/woman. 

                  I suggest a June wedding, but I am open to suggestions.

              • walkamungus

                Mike! If I could like this a million times, I would!  *bats eyelashes flirtatiously*

                • EJC

                  Jesus, just kiss already and get it over with

            • Karen L

              Here’s the heart of your problem:

              “Conversation doesn’t matter”

              (This is also the heart of women’s problem here, too.)

              You apparently don’t consider women to be people who are worth sharing ideas with, as you presumably do men. 

              This is what women are objecting to — being treated as good for nothing but sex.  And you’ve just basically said that you consider women good for nothing but sex, and you only enter into conversation with sexually attractive women.

              • EJC

                No Karen, I am being honest and sincere. Any man who is not gay that claims the first thing they notice is personality or chats is lying.

                We stare at breasts, think about sex, and are hard-wired that way. You know it and I know it. And you gals get all uppity and worked up over it. Why?

                • Karen L

                  There is a difference between noticing looks and acting as if looks are what is most important in an individual, whatever the gender.

                  I’m not talking about what you notice, but what you value.

                • Anonymous

                  I think if you toss out the b-word and the c-word, I’ll have bingo!

                • The Other Weirdo

                  Bread and circuses?

    • Karen L

      Your reply is confusing. 

      What exactly about this quote:
      > They will know what it’s like to be scolded about
      > “oversensitivity” for expressing discomfort.
      concerns you? 

      It is referring to women who have been scolded for being ‘oversensitive’ when they object to some sexist treatment.  (Been  there!)  How is saying that women are tired of receiving such criticism a problem for you? 

      Yes, it’s understandable that the conversation about sexism in the atheist community is getting old.  It’s understandable that you think the criticism is tiresome because it doesn’t apply to you.  But the problem exists, and presumably you care about the affected people.  What are they supposed to do, if not point the problem out?  It’s clear from many of the comments on such posts that the problem hasn’t really been fixed.

      If you aren’t part of the problem, you don’t need to take it personally when the problem is pointed out.  No one is saying “all” men are behaving badly, or that “atheist men are bad”.

      And no one is saying men need to psychically determine if a particular woman has been put off by too much propositioning.  I like the comment made by Kaoru Negisa above:  “talk to people first, flirt if the conversation is otherwise going
      well, but be seeking a good conversation, not a sex partner”? 

      That by itself would solve a huge part of this.

      • Anonymous

        If you aren’t part of the problem, you don’t need to take it personally when the problem is pointed out. 

        Could this be posted somewhere as a sticky?

    • Semipermeable

      I think you missed the point a little bit. It isn’t just the flirting, it’s the flirting paired with the larger problem of women again and again voicing an idea which is ignored until a man voices it as well. This does not only happen in this community, but in every day life, however because this is a community that aspires to praise ideas such as equality and humanism, I had hoped for better. 

      As tired as you are of seeing blog posts, I can guarantee you the women speaking up are far more tired of being ignored and only gaining attention for their potential as sexual partners. 

      When you say things such as: “Look, I’m a *gay* man, and posts like yours make me creeped out about the idea of even talking with women in public, for fear they’re going to think I’m hitting on them and get upset about it.”   
       It seems like to me you are blaming women for reacting to a behavior they have collectively asked the involved men to stop, because women may suspect you of the same thing. (keep in mind we don’t know your sexuality from your face, we are not mind readers).  If you are speaking to a women and listening to her ideas as she should listen to yours, ie, holding a conversation I see no reason why you should be afraid, because that is not the problem. The problem is that at these conferences individual women’s ideas are being ignored, and when they ask that men simply try to be more respectful before asking for sex, that is somehow treated as a completely unreasonable and irrational request. 
      Humans are intelligent social creatures, it shouldn’t be so hard to understand how to be simply respectful and that some actions have a context. Many commenters here treat it as if it is some gargantuan task to simply be understanding of our position. Would it really be so terrible to not ask out a women or ask for sex until you have more information about her in general? Is it really so hard for some men to not take offense to the idea that perhaps they shouldn’t  proposition women in some contexts? 

      This is not purely in response to you, Thomas, and I apologize, but I am simply sick to death of the whining, “but understanding how to ask out a woman is harrrrrd, social contexts are harrrd!” Well yes, but so is any other social interaction with differing human beings, you figure it out in your situation. 

      Thomas, you are sick of these posts, well I am sick of the idea that a straight men’s chance at a date or sex is more important then the chance that women may feel threatened or be unable to voice her ideas after investing time, travel and money to attend a conference in the first place. A conference is supposed to be about the exchange of ideas, with everything else secondary. Women have been saying their ideas are ignored, but that seems secondary to the furor that gets raised at the mention of men being asking to not proposition every potential biological sex partner in sight.

      • Travshad

        You have stated several times that women’s ideas are ignored at these conferences.  Do you, or anyone, have any actual examples of that happening.  I have not attended any of these events, but no one has given an example of this happening.  Even if  you keep repeating the refrain that women’s ideas are ignored and they are treated as sex objects, that doesn’t make it true.  If this is truly a problem, the only way to come to a solution is to document what is actually happening. 
        I have never been to conference (business,civic organization, specialized interest, fandom, etc) that did not have networking and social functions as a main goal.  We can exchange ideas over the internet, etc.  The face to face meeting and interacting in a personal and social way with others is why people spend the money and time to go to these type of events. 

        • Karen L

          I’ve read examples of women’s ideas being ignored — are you reading thoroughly?  Numerous women have said this happens to them — why don’t you want to accept their statements?

          As for your second point, of course networking and social functions are important components of conferences.  It’s much more rewarding to discuss ideas face-to-face than over the internet, and people can make lasting friendships. 

          But ‘social functions’ is not code for sex.  Women aren’t saying that they don’t want to socialize at these events, just that they don’t want to be treated as sex objects.  Is that really so hard to understand?

          • Travshad

            I have seen no examples, only that this is how women or women they know feel.  I often think the my ideas at work are ignored, that I am not always taken as seriously as some co-workers.  But when I talk to those co-workers, they often feel the same way.  Most people have a hard time being objective about their situations.

            I have no problem understanding that some of the women posting on this site feel that they are treated as sex objects.  But I think there needs to be more objective evidence that they are actually being treated as sex objects.

    • Anonymous

      But the amount of “atheist men are bad…..”

      Inflated rhetoric like this, which inaccurately describes the situation and misrepresents what people are actually saying, is a huge part of the ‘problem’ with these discussions, imo.

      Can you cite an example of anyone making the broad-brush assertion that “atheist men are bad” Thomas?

      If you can’t, you may want to take a little more care when you’re ‘summarizing’ what other people are saying.

      • Anonymous

        While I am on your side 100%, yes, there have been comments that could easily be construed that way.  It’s a small leap from saying that sexism is a problem at atheist conferences to saying that atheist men are the problem, and all of the sudden you have defensive guys who aren’t willing to listen anymore, like EJC here for example.

        Unfortunately, I also don’t know how else to put this so that people who don’t already get it can come to understand.  Claudia’s done a fine job pulling some guys on board here, but our work is clearly not done.

  • Josh

    My question would be how are we to know as individuals what happened in the past to a woman or anybody else that we might strike up a conversation with? I mean I also wouldn’t make dick jokes in front of a guy with no penis, but how should I know someone will be offended until afterwards?

    I’m not trying to counter the post, just pointing out that you can’t be sure of someone else’s experiences before you meet them.

    • Anonymous


      My question would be how are we to know as individuals what happened in the past to a woman or anybody else that we might strike up a conversation with? ”

      You aren’t expected to know.  That would require everyone to be psychic and I’m pretty sure as skeptics and atheists we all agree that’s not possible.

      Claudia is trying to get everyone to realized that while there is certainly nothing wrong with flirting, if someone gives you a hesitant or unwarm response, don’t continue to flirt and don’t treat them poorly because they didn’t respond enthusiastically.

      What boggles me is why anyone would open a conversation with instant flirting in situations like this.  You’re at a conference with like minded people.  You see a pretty woman.  Do you automatically assume that because she’s pretty she’s not there for the same reason you are, to mingle with people who have the same ideas and who wants to learn more and meet other people just like her?  Maybe she would be open to flirting, maybe she wouldn’t, but if that’s the first thing that happens when she talks to any man at that conference she may come to think they don’t see her as a like-minded individual, but as an object to be looked at.  Then again, she may -love- the attention and enthusiastically respond.  But you’ll never know for sure unless you approach and begin a conversation.

      So! What to do?  Approach, start up a conversation, flirt or don’t, but keep in mind this is a person you’re talking to, not just a pretty face and that while they may love the flirting, they may want a conversation too.

      This same thing goes for men or trans men or trans women or gender fluid and the list goes on!

      • Semipermeable

        This mirrors my thoughts exactly, and you have phrased in much better then I have. 

  • EJC

    Speaking of accumulation and things getting old…

    Hasn’t this poor old bastard horse been beaten to death ALREADY.

    Jesus, let’s just rename this blog the “Whiney Women Trying to Be Even More Shrill” website…

    • Mike

       Apparently not.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Alexander-Wilkins/1409733600 Alexander Wilkins

      And responses like yours are exactly why we need to keep posts like this on the website.

    • Anonymous

      Hasn’t this poor old bastard horse been beaten to death ALREADY.

      Says the guy who’s ‘contributed’ to every single conversation on the topic……

      • EJC

        Your point, there Gloria?

    • Anonymous

      Jesus, let’s just rename this blog the “Whiney Women Trying to Be Even More Shrill” website…

      *giggling*  dear, you’re providing the best example of “shrill” around here :)

      • Anonymous

        I’m mildly concerned people will start to think he’s some sort of a feminist Poe (a Sue?), because he’s so stereotypical he hardly seems real, sometimes.

        • Karen L

          The thought had crossed my mind.

      • EJC

        Ahhhhh, from the mouths of babes…

        • http://www.facebook.com/Tracy.Bradley1 Tracy Bradley

          *blush* He thinks we’re babes! *giggle* *bats eyelashes*

    • http://hauntedtimber.wordpress.com/ timberwraith

      If you think this is getting old, try dealing with men’s sexist behavior on a regular basis. That gets old too and unless you are willing to change your sex, you do your best to cope with it… for the rest of your life.

      So, complaining about how terrible it is to read a succession of posts on sexism/misogyny in the atheist community doesn’t really inspire all that much sympathy. Compare reading a few posts on a website and then (maybe) thinking about what is said to a lifetime of developing coping strategies in dealing with people’s prejudice and sense of entitlement.

      What do you suppose an atheist’s response would be if a Christian showed up here and said, “Are you guys still talking about this stuff? Get over it already.” That’s easy enough to say when the culture you live it gives the lion’s share of power and privilege to your group.

      That’s just the thing. Atheist spaces devote a lot of verbiage to challenging the near universal privilege that societies grant to the religious. So, when the men in those spaces complain about having their privilege challenged, it stands out in bold relief as being pretty darned hypocritical.

      • EJC

        Oh bullshit.

        Jesus, you gals think you want equal treatment when in fact, when you get it you cry foul!

        Men insult the shit out of each other, we wear the same underpants for a week, we make rude gestures and jokes among ourselves…then along comes Franny Feminist saying she wants equal treatment, so when men then go about being rude, suggestive and inappropriate they get their collective panties all up in a wad.

        Get real. You are such disingenuous hypocrites it becomes cringe worthy, if it weren’t so insidiously wrong.

        Your whole argument hinges on an incorrect hypothesis; that those with penises are a collective group of barbarians all out to rape, pillage and undermine the vaginal agenda. Bullshit.

        • Karen L

          Hard to take you for anything but a troll.

          You also have a strawman problem there.

          • EJC

            Sorry Karen, but there is no strawman there, but you do ignore the glaring fact that your whole argument (or the side it seems you are advocating) is based on a false at worst, or untested at best, hypothesis.

            There is no strawman here sweetie, but there is a huge hole in your side’s stance. Again, when I say hole, I mean the hole in the argument, not the hole that seems to be the root cause of this “debate”….

            • Karen L

              “Your whole argument hinges on an incorrect hypothesis; that those with
              penises are a collective group of barbarians all out to rape, pillage
              and undermine the vaginal agenda.”

              This is one glaring strawman.  Obviously, no one is making this argument.

              It’s very clear that productive discussion with you isn’t possible, unfortunately.

              • EJC

                Still no strawman Karen, only a wording issue. You choose to use pretty, delicately scented words that float like little yellow butterflies vis-a-vis the issue at hand, while I simply provide the bare bones of the argument.

        • http://hauntedtimber.wordpress.com/ timberwraith

          You know, your own opinion of what you think constitutes common guy culture isn’t all that positive or mature. Constantly insulting each other and neglecting to wear clean clothes?

          It’s kind of funny that you think we’re the ones who are saying that all guys are barbarians.

          Given your self-indicated level of maturity, there’s really no reason to continue interacting with you.

          • EJC

            Common guy culture IS immature and nasty. Jesus dude, that is why if I were a woman I would be a lesbian.

            • http://hauntedtimber.wordpress.com/ timberwraith

              I see. So you are saying that the culture shared by men is generally immature and nasty… so much so that you imply that women might be better off dating their own kind.

              “Hey women, you need to get over us behaving like sexist jerks… because we’re a bunch of assholes.”

              “Hey atheists, you need to get over Christians treating you like crap because we Christians are a bunch of assholes.”

              “Hey person of color, you need to get over white people being racist because white people are a bunch of assholes.”

              I’m sorry, but that just doesn’t work. It doesn’t excuse hurtful behavior that ultimately implies hateful attitudes toward women. It just makes you sound utterly pathetic. It makes you sound especially pathetic because even those with religious or racial privilege have the sense not to dismiss their poor behavior by stating that they are simply terrible people.

              The irony here is that you have objected to women saying negative things about men and yet, you have made the most negative generalization about men that I’ve seen on all of these threads.

              The next time you consider complaining about women who refuse to put up with demeaning, hateful behavior from men, consider your own words. Your assessment of your own sex is quite negative.

              Consider what that implies.

    • JRB

      I’ve already posted this once in a previous comment thread but it was
      pretty late in the posts life and it is likely EJC didn’t see it.  I
      hope you will excuse me reposting this with only minor changes and I
      apologize to those who may experience an acute sense of deja vu.

      Dear EJC,

      I want to go on record as saying that you are the worst kind of person there is.

      You’re proudly ignorant, stubborn, and completely lacking in self
      awareness.  You clearly have no ability to engage in honest discussion,
      either because you lack the interest or the mental faculties.  There is
      no point in attempting to engage you on any sort of intellectual level
      as every time the idiocy of your arguments is exposed you resort to
      puerile and childish taunts.

      Due to your behaviour on this blog, my hope is that you are 14 years old
      and either angrily lashing out at a world you still find confusing and
      overwhelming or trolling out of boredom because your parents refused to
      buy you Skyrim for Christmas.

      My fear is that you are only acting like a bored/angry 14 year old and
      you are actually a fully grown adult-child who truly believes the crap
      you are spouting.   If that is the case then any woman who has even the
      most fleeting contact with you has my deepest sympathies.   As long as
      you continue this way, you are a cancer on human progress and the world
      is made dumber and more hateful every time you express your opinion.

      Your comments — like the one above and even more so those to Felyx
      Leiter in the  Penn Jillette  post — make clear that you deserve no
      respect and I hope this comment gets across the fact that I have none
      for you.

      • Anonymous

        Hey now, don’t get down on teenagers. I know lots of teens who have more sense than EJC and more maturity too!

        It’s sad that people like this exist, but there will always be those few who are so stubbornly ignorant they refuse to be willing to listen to others and learn.  The rest of us just have to make sure it’s clear they don’t speak for anyone but themselves and those like them.

        • http://twitter.com/FelyxLeiter Felyx Leiter

          JRB, I didn’t thank you on the other thread for this.  So…thanks.

        • JRB

          I had hoped it was clear in my post but I did not mean to denigrate all teenagers.  I meant to compare EJC’s antics to those specific teens stuck on the cusp between being a child and being an adult who angrily lash out because they can’t find a place in either world.

          (A behavior which is forgivable at 14, not so much by the time you’re 25.)

      • http://twitter.com/FelyxLeiter Felyx Leiter

        JRB, I didn’t thank you on the other thread for this.  So…thanks. :)

      • Heidi

        I want to go on record as applauding JRB for this post.

        And I want to add a note to EJC that when someone collectively refers to women as “gals,” women tend to stop listening and dismiss their input as irrelevant.

        • Anne Sauer

          Not to mention EJC’s use of the word “shrill.”

        • EJC

          Oh heaven forbid anyone use any term other than womyn. This is just what is wrong with your side of the fence…but, no worries sugar, I won’t use “gal” anymore, okay sweetheart?

          Good, now that we have that settled honey, we can move on. Work for you dear?

  • Kaoru Negisa

    Ok, this actually answers my questions on the other thread fairly well.

    Can it be summarized as “talk to people first, flirt if the conversation is otherwise going well, but be seeking a good conversation, not a sex partner”?

    Again, if I’m starting to sound like a jerk, please let me know. I’m kinda used to being on the other side of this debate and feel a little dirty splitting hairs, but being both flirtatious and afraid to offend people by nature, I really don’t want to worsen a problem in a community I’m just starting to join.

    • Anonymous

      I think your summary works. In a mingling situation (such as the social part of a conference), there’s every opportunity go get to know people a bit. So if the first words out of a guy’s mouth is “hi, you’re cute, can I have your phone number” or somesuch, I’m going to assume that he’s after what’s below my neck, not above. (Because I’m a bitch, apparently, judging from the many discussions I’ve seen on the subject.) If the first words are “hi, how are you?”, that gives a way better impression from the get go.

      Subtle signals, the difference between flirting and friendliness etc. are tricky things. I’m pretty socially awkward, so I completely get that. (And have repeatedly been on the “I’m not interested please stop touching me” end of a flirt and STILL not managed to get that message across, probably entirely due to my own fear of being rude.) But a gradual approach at least gives both parties the chance to wave their metaphorical semaphore flags a bit before considering bringing carnal lusts into the conversation.

      • Kaoru Negisa

        “Hi, how are you?” is my favorite pick up line! How did you know? %)

        I understand what you mean about fear of being rude, which is why it should be incumbent on the person who is attempting to flirt to be even more aware of those signals, both positive and negative. It’s rare to see simultaneous initiation of flirtation, so if you’re first, keep an eye out. The other person may be being subtle (one way or the other), and those subtitles make a huge difference.

        • Anonymous

          I know it’s a typo, but I also know I would have loved it if women had subtitles when I was single!  :)

      • GG

        So if the first words out of a guy’s mouth is “hi, you’re cute, can I
        have your phone number” or somesuch, I’m going to assume that he’s after
        what’s below my neck, not above

        Is this hyperbole?  Or do people really do that sort of thing?  Perhaps it’s cultural (statistically you’re probably from the US (?), I’m from the UK), or rather naive (me being a male who doesn’t like the macho, testosteroney culture and who doesn’t move in those circles), but the idea of those being the first words out of someone’s mouth seems laughably desperate and transparent.  Would that ever work?

        • absent sway

          It might work with some women, perhaps if they are powerfully attracted to the guy or looking to get over a bad breakup, but I don’t think I’ve met anyone it worked on, and yes, I’ve been approached like this (thankfully only a couple times).

    • Anonymous

      I think this is probably a good rule when you are somewhere that is not neccesarily assumed to be for “hooking up” (I’ve been to a few clubs like that, most certainly not my thing, but whatever floats your boat). So it would cover pretty much any atheist meet-up. I happen to think it doesn’t hurt to make the “talk to person first, flirt later” policy a general one, since there are a fair number of women who are put off by being flirted with at once, but so far as I can tell far fewer, if any, who dislike being talked to in a friendly manner.

      Just as a personal tip (and this counts inside and outside the community) one way to ensure that a woman doesn’t think you were just there to get lucky is by conversing normally both before and after any flirtation. So if a woman indicates, verbally or non-verbally, that she doesn’t want to be flirted with, stop flirting, but don’t run away. Keep talking, be friendly, have a conversation. That way, whoever you spoke to will know that even if you did have some physical interest, that was in no way the sum total of what she was considered in that interaction.

      And you don’t sound like a jerk and your questions are in no way dirty. It’s not a crime to want to flirt or to hook up, and questions on how one navigates social situations in a respectful manner are good, and indicate an interest in the comfort of others, which will serve you well no matter your initial intentions.

      • Anonymous

        All I can say is…….after the frustration and disappointment I’ve experienced getting involved in so many of these discussions lately, I cannot tell you how refreshing it is to have such an intelligent, articulate, calm, reasonable and fair voice around…..

        big kudos, Claudia :)   for this and your OP

      • Kaoru Negisa

        Thanks for the tip and I’m glad this is getting positive feedback. It’s a very fine line that people walk in any new social encounter, especially when we’re talking about adults who may or may not want to get laid.

        Perhaps one might also counsel patience in cases like this. If a person is focused entirely on sex they tend to treat people as the most immediate path to that goal and behave in such a fashion that they think they can get there in as little time as possible. That not only degrades the person being flirted with, it degrades the forceful person who ends up relying on well-worn lines and innuendo, like some magic trick that, done right, makes the intended’s clothes disappear. Even if people can’t bring themselves to think of other people as human beings (which is one hell of a problem in and of itself), shouldn’t they at least think of themselves as human beings instead of sex-seeking missiles?

    • Anonymous

      That sums it up pretty well, actually.

    • ischemgeek

      I think your summary is exactly on-point. I don’t think any of us are saying never proposition women ever, but thing is, context and delivery are everything. A question will be better-received than a demand, and a question to someone who, though conversation and maybe a bit of flirting you’ve identified as potentially receptive will be better-received than having the proposition be your opening line.

      Another big thing as well that I don’t think is given enough attention is how you react if someone turns you down. Calling names and cutting off the conversation are great ways to make the person who just turned you down feel like you were only considering them “below the neck”. I know it hurts to be turned down (I’ve been turned down when asking people out on dates before), and I do sympathize, but it’s no excuse to generally act like a jerk afterward (unless the person went out of their way to be hurtful with the turn-down, in which case they probably deserve to be called names even if I think taking the high road is usually better). Further, one of my closest friendships sprung of a conversation with a turned-down proposition in the middle of it, so even if you misread the other person, don’t assume you’re completely out of luck… instead of getting a sex partner, you might get a friend, and that’s not a bad thing on its own, either.

      I think this concept applies to all potentially romantic encounters: A few of my male friends have complained about women who proposition them right out of the gate. I think it’s the same underlying irritation over being valued for their appearance over who they are. I know that when women proposition me with the same sort of attitude (though it doesn’t happen as often mainly because though I’m bisexual, I don’t go to a lot of the local GLBT meeting spots and community gatherings – for pretty much the same reason as we’re currently discussing… inconsiderate sexual behavior is not a gender-specific issue), I find it just as irritating as when men do it.

      • Kaoru Negisa

        I’m also bisexual, and do spend a lot of time in LGBT-oriented areas (generally in an activist fashion), so I know to an extent what women go through in terms of being treated as a sex object, however also being male, I recognize that the odds of being called a bitch or something else and being maligned for a lack of interest (or threatened with rape, or ignored for my ideas by those connected to the person I rejected, or being called “ugly” as if it has some bearing on my thoughts and their coherence, etc.) are much reduced on my end, so I’m making an effort to try and get at least a marginally better understanding.

        I’ve found that in most social situations, approaching without expectation leads to a better result in the majority of cases. What brought this thought up was your commentary on friendship building and I realized that a lot of my friendships have developed because I was attracted to somebody and we became close. And a lot of my romantic encounters have happened because I became friends with somebody and we later realized we were attracted to one another. Having a goal in mind outside of the immediate one (“have a conversation, meet somebody new”) seems to cut off the possibility of any other interaction which can be fulfilling, interesting, and enlightening.

    • http://www.facebook.com/Tracy.Bradley1 Tracy Bradley

      You most definitely do not sound like a jerk! Others have already responded – I just wanted to let you know I (and undoubtedly other women here) appreciate you asking genuine questions :)

  • http://stochasticscientist.blogspot.com/ Kathy

    This problem is complex because some women might actually like to go out with some of the men they meet at conferences, and some women have absolutely no interest in doing so.  How is the man supposed to know the difference?  

    I’m married and I don’t want to be propositioned ever (especially not when I’m trapped in an elevator with a stranger) but I wouldn’t expect someone I just met to know that.   

    Isn’t it possible for men to approach women in a friendly way that gives them both a chance to save face afterwards?
    Good:  Would you like to have a cup of coffee with me sometime?

    Bad:  I’d really like to do you.

    Or am I just showing how long it’s been since I’ve been on a date?

  • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

    Why don’t we just let women be the initiators of flirtatious conversation? Wouldn’t that solve all this crap?

    • http://profile.typepad.com/6p010536ce50d4970c «bønez_brigade»

      Unfortunately, our patriarchal society conditions us to _expect_ males to initiate conversation.  Silly and outmoded, I know.

      • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

        Well I wouldn’t want to be with a woman who confines herself to such gender expectations. So all’s good.

      • http://www.facebook.com/Tracy.Bradley1 Tracy Bradley

         I’d actually question that, but hey, it may be true where you live and just not true where I live. I’ve never felt like (or been taught) that men initiate, women receive… I am truly sorry if you have. And hey… doesn’t mean you have to actually pay any attention to it, does it?

  • Trace

    rejoicing already :)

    I get the “where are you from” all the time (I have an accent)….Since most of the time it is well intentioned I always try to be polite but have to admit that sometimes the accumulation effect gets to me. Oh well…

    Great post Claudia!

  • http://twitter.com/TominousTone Tom Lawson

    I second Jessica…THIS!!!

  • Joannaa

    You don’t have to psychically know it’s likely the woman has been propositioned a million times. You’re being told in multiple blog posts.
    And no, men shouldn’t be afraid to speak to women, they should be afraid to speak to women disrespectfully (because we’re people, not because we’re delicate flowers). Be honest, you know when your primary motivation is not to connect with another human being as an equal.

    Discrimination is sometimes like porn, you know it when you see it. You know, as an atheist, sometimes you read a person or group and decide to keep your religious views to yourself, even if no one said anything overt? There’s a pervasive sense that you’re not ok with them. The men calling women shrill and whiney aren’t really the problem, it’s the basically nice, well meaning men participating in institutionalized discrimination without even realizing it.

    • The Other Weirdo

      Actually, the best kind of discrimination is the kind you wouldn’t recognize even if it slapped you across the cheek with a snow shovel. That’s when you usually present the other cheek. Discrimination that’s like porn is the prepubescent version.

    • Travshad

      First of all what you consider “disrespectful” and what someone speaking to you considers “disresectful” are likely different.  I doubt anyone at these conferences are being disrespectful on purpose.  Also for the record I my opionion it is not disrespectful to want to sleep with someone, it is not disrespectful to ask someone to have sex, and it is not disrespectful to not want to develop a relation (or even have a conversation) with everyone you want to have sex with. There are quite of few of us who can still connect with another human being as an equal in a casual sexual experience. 

      You will know what you consider porn when you see it, but it very likely other people will come to a different conclusion.  One of my co-workers had to keep a dvd in his dresser drawer so his teenage children wouldn’t see.  She didn’t want her children to know their was watching pornography (she used the word).  The dvd was a copy of the TV show Spartacus:Gods of the Arena that he checked out from the public library.  If you know it when you see it, is this TV show pornography?  I don’t think it is. 

      I would also argue that just because you have a “pervasive sense” that a group is unwelcoming, the problem might not be with the group.  The problem may be that your perception of the group is incorrect.

  • The Other Weirdo

    This attitude turns men into failures for their physical inability to read any given woman’s mind. It’s not helped by the fact that, all claims to the contrary, “no doesn’t *always* mean no”. You may rail against, but every woman–and every man–knows that it’s true.

    If men have to approach women as though each one of them is a rape victim, then as has been said above, the only men who will approach women will be the ones who don’t care.

    The analogy with a man named Dick falls flat, IMHO. If you meet a man named Dick, I don’t see why you should ever worry or even think about whether or not he’s heard all the Dick jokes. You just should make any such jokes, not because he’s heard them all, but  because IT’S RUDE. If you take the stance that it’s rude to hit on women at atheist conventions, then any woman that WANTS to be hit on, is basically SOL. So all women have to suffer for the sake of the few. I’m pretty sure that the sistahhood doesn’t extend quite THAT far.

    I recognize that there is a problem, but to make blanket commandments to all men about all women(in respect to atheist conventions) is probably not the way to go about solving it. And believe me, there is absolutely no way to implement this only for SOME women because there would be no way for any given man to tell such women apart.

    • Anonymous

      Do you -really- want to be with a woman who says no but means yes?  Wouldn’t a yes in the first place be more satisfying?

      You say you recognize there’s a problem, but you don’t offer an alternative solution.  If what she said isn’t helpful or seems wrong to you, then what do you offer instead?  How do we address the issue that some women are uncomfortable being flirted with?

      I personally think that conversations are a good way to gauge if a woman is open to flirtation.  I’ve never personally been hit on, so I’ve no reference for this kind of situation.  

      Do men normally open conversations with instant flirting?  Or, if it’s obvious the woman isn’t interested in flirting, by verbal or physical cues such as stepping back or turning to face away from the man or mentioning a boyfriend/girlfriend, do men normally ignore these signs?  

      The other thing is, this may not be directed at all men, but just the men who are simply at these conferences to hit on women and/or men who ignore the signs that a woman isn’t interested in flirting or something more.

      Unfortunately it’s often all to easy to simply say men instead of, “men who do this”, so wording becomes a problem when addressing issues like this.  And even when it is specific, some men who don’t do whatever example is presented, take offense because it’s not specific enough or they fear they’re doing it without realizing.

      I think that’s why it’s good to have these conversations. To make people aware and to help them communicate effectively.  The best site I’ve read yet on communication regarding sexual interactions is http://yesmeansyesblog.wordpress.com/ .  Many of the entries are not just about communication, but the book Yes Means Yes by Jaclyn Friedman, is most definitely about communication and what she calls enthusiastic consent.

      Women are taught to be coy because we’re told that’s what men like. We teach men to be bold because they’re told that’s what women like.  But no one is exactly the same, so assuming all women are being coy or want men who are bold or assuming all men should be bold or want coy women is a very bad assumption to make. We’re all individuals and we need to communicate in order to understand what others want and to show others what we want.

      My apologizes for going over long.  But I truly believe communication can the willingness to listen could solve a lot of issues like these. Not just about sexism either.

      And as I said in another reply, this goes for all genders.  Some women are bold and they approach coy men and don’t take no for an answer because they think “Oh they’re just playing coy.”  And then it all goes to hell from a misunderstanding.

      • Cd1809

        >>Do you -really- want to be with a woman who says no but means yes?  Wouldn’t a yes in the first place be more satisfying?

        >> Women are taught to be coy because we’re told that’s what men like. 

        Which is it?

        • Anonymous

          What do you mean which is it?  Just because a woman is taught to be coy doesn’t mean she will be.  Some women don’t ascribe to that gendered crap.

          • Cd1809

            >>Do you -really- want to be with a woman who says no but means yes? Wouldn’t a yes in the first place be more satisfying?

            What if she is interested but busy at the time? Later she shuffles around meetings and presto. That no becomes a yes.

            Im not the cutest guy by a stretch, but damnit, I’m charming. Over the course of a conversation I’ve had a few ladies that were in the no boat come back and say yes later.

            Side note: First and foremost brain is a must. I don’t care how cute. I never talk with a woman for the purpose of flirting.

            Shame that guys can be so forward. Of course it would be nice for ladies to not be so coy. At least be willing to say they are not interested early in the conversation to help avoid both people getting hurt because we both know us guys are rarely good at getting non verbal cues.

            • Anonymous


              What if she is interested but busy at the time? Later she shuffles around meetings and presto. That no becomes a yes.”

              If she’s interested but busy, why would she say no?  I admit I’m puzzled by this, but I’m not saying it can’t happen.  And hey if she does come back and say yes, then it’s win/win, yes?

              I don’t think it’s fair to assume all guys don’t get non-verbal cues.  Some do and just ignore them.  Same way with some women.  I’m like that sometimes though with non-verbal cues, I don’t always understand them well at first. I’m pretty oblivious and it’s damn embarrassing when I finally require a verbal cue to get what is being communicated to me.

              And hey, charming is great! Keep at it if it works for you!

              • Cd1809

                The example of the atheist conference keeps being used. There are many events going on. Perhaps her day is well planned out. Then a talk gets canceled. There is a basic no/yes possibility. And of course if she comes back later, great. (so long as it doesn’t interfere with the Dawkins talk ;p )

                You’re right some people ignore non verbal cues. I can only speak for myself and my friends that I’ve asked… I don’t think guys ignore them as often as you might think. I’m betting they are likely just not received.

              • Anonymous

                I’m personally awful at picking up cues like that.  Just ask my wife.  We almost didn’t start dating because I couldn’t figure out if she was interested and she probably wouldn’t have taken the initiative on her own.

                That said, I think it’s far more likely to get “I’m busy” if the woman is busy.  Unfortunately, I’ve seen friends get the “I’m busy” answer as an alternative method of saying no (when the woman feels unable to outright reject someone either out of fear or wanting to avoid causing pain) many times, so if I had ever gotten that myself I’d probably just assume I had no chance even if being busy was the absolute truth.  In fact, it happened so often that when I got rejected, I found it refreshing that the women were…quite plain in their rejection.  :)

    • walkamungus

      Claudia isn’t saying that you need to approach every woman like she’s a rape victim. What she’s saying is (Claudia, correct me here if I’ve misread you) IT’S RUDE to treat women at atheist conventions as if all they’re there for is sex. That’s not the same as not hitting on them. Chat first, proposition later.

      • Anonymous

        No correction needed, you got it right :-)

        • walkamungus

          I pity the poor fool who tries to flirt with me — I’m fairly clueless at reading people, and several times I’ve been told by friends, “Hey, that guy was flirting with you!” And my response has been, “Really? I didn’t notice!”

    • Rebecca Sparks

       It’s not helped by the fact that, all claims to the contrary, “no doesn’t *always* mean no”
      Generally speaking, if you treat all nos as no you will get into a lot less trouble with accusations of sexism, racism, rape, etc.  If the person is being coy, let them be the one to clarify that they really consent.

      The biggest problem I personally see with this whole “Can I flirt with you at a con?” question is not the intial flirtation.  If a woman could decline interest without fuss, and just be treated like any other atheist, this would be no big deal.  Instead when she says no, she’s not believed. Or the reaction she gets is as if she said “you can never flirt with anyone ever, again” instead of “don’t flirt with me right here, right now.” Or she only included in conversations with flirtation that are terminated when she declines interest–as Claudia said previously.  

      So please, let no mean no,  and then still treat us like human beings, and you can flirt to your heart’s desire.

      • The Other Weirdo

        That’s the attitude I generally take. If you tell me “no”, you will never hear from me again, even if you really wanted to. It’s not that I care about your feelings, it’s that I have to protect myself.

        • Rebecca Sparks

          This falls under the ” she [is] only included in conversations with flirtation[, and those conversations] are terminated when she declines interest.”  She might not want to be your girlfriend, but she might still be willing to be your friend.  The primary purpose for cons is social networking and listening to awesome speakers & artists, right?

          • The Other Weirdo

            Assuming, of course, that I want anything more from her than a one-night stand. If that’s all I’m interesting in, why would I waste my time with someone who clearly isn’t? Or waste her time, also? After all, her “no” might not mean “I’m not interested in flirting,” it might mean, “I’m not interested in flirting with *you*.”

            If I’m looking for a friend, I don’t flirt. I’m looking for a one-night stand, I might converse long enough to slip into flirting. Why waste time with uninterested parties?

            • Rebecca Sparks

              Assuming, of course, that I want anything more from her than a one-night standYes, well, I was hoping you were following why-is-the-other-person-here-? rule, the one where you consider the other persons agenda before engaging them in an activity.  According to this rule you ask for authors for autographs at signings, not when they’re out for lunch with their family.  You befriend baristas at a friend’s party, not while they’re at work in the cafe.  You sell to people when they’re at the flea market, not when they’re in the emergency room.

              I’m not saying that you have to limit your interactions to only what you both came here to do.  Like if you go into a blind date, and it just so happens that you work out to be a great business deal between your companies.    But if a person goes on a date with the intention of using the date to get a business deal, then the date becomes a one sided opportunity to sell.  Pretty soon that other person will know that their dating interest is being exploited.  They will avoid dates with that first person, or people like them.   

              So, going back to flirting, if you think its likely a woman is there to have a one night stand (like say a bar, or the club, or a speed dating night), then by all means chat her up and leave if she’s not interested.  But if she’s there to hear some great atheist speakers and get involved with the atheist communities, but what she gets is men solicit sex, she is going to find that her interest is being exploited.

              What I hope is that you mean you pick up girls in bars and parties, and you are friendly but sexually disinterested during lectures, work, volunteering. and other places women are not necessarily looking for hot sex–since you can’t go back and forth from friends to sexual interest.

              • The Other Weirdo

                Again, what do other people’s agendas matter? People don’t always follow their own agendas, so why does it matter?

    • Oread

      When I say no, I mean no. Quit patronizing women (and other men) by telling them what they think and what they mean. You are not expected to read my mind, but listen to my words. And most of the time its really obvious if someone is interested or not by paying any attention whatsoever to their non-verbal cues. 

  • Pat

    This is essentially more mind reading BS. People are not responsible for the acts of other people you have previously met. Many people go to conferences to get laid. Many people who go to conferences are also socially awkward. If this is too much for you…  either get over yourself or stay home.

    At the best of times figuring out if someone is “interested” can be difficult. If you don’t want to have sex with someone, stop being passive aggressive and tell them, look, not interested. Being an adult means standing up for yourself, expecting people to cater to your unexpressed feelings is what children do.

    • walkamungus

      Perhaps the socially awkward ones could learn to be less socially awkward if they want to get laid? That’s really what we’re striving for here. 

      • Pat

        Ideally… but as  skeptic, I deal in reality, not feminist utopias.

        Seriously, if we’re talking about the same person being repeatedly annoying a woman, and ‘no means no’, obviously I’m with the feminists, but this…. don’t offend me, I’m a woman crap doesn’t wash. Learn to say no, stand up for yourself, and stop expecting the world to take care of you. Men want to have sex, maybe with you, maybe not. If you’re not interested, you say you’re not interested. People can’t read your mind, nor should they be expected to.

  • Cd1809

    Taking your post to it’s logical conclusion, women need to wear a tag on their arm staying how many times men have talked to them that day. Good call.

    • Michael

      There was an attempt to do this at a gamer convention once. It failed quite predictably.

      • Anonymous

        Easily misunderstood as cosplay in a geek setting? :D

    • Anonymous

      At some conferences they have dots or other kinds of stickers you can put on your tag to identify certain things like “Atheist”, “Skeptic”, etc. One of the sets of dots were for “Hug me!” or “Please don’t hug me.”  How about we do that but with a set of dots that means ‘Flirt with me!” or “Don’t flirt with me?”  Too weird?  Maybe I’m too logical when it comes to things like this.  Liking to be flirted with isn’t a switch that’s always on or off. Maybe I want to be flirted with now, but not later.  Ah well.

      • http://wordsideasandthings.blogspot.com/ Garren
        • Anonymous

          Interesting. I had no idea this existed! Something new to read when I’m not at work.  My eyes went wide when I realized what that page was about. Yikes! I need to stop clicking on random links at work. Curiosity is my downfall.

      • Eleanor O’Neill

        (If I were single…) Maybe I’d want to be flirted with, but not by you (whoever “you” might be, not “you=timidatheist” specifically). And definitely not if I were currently trying to have a serious conversation about whatever is the topic of the conference.

        The logical conclusion (as stated earlier) is: talk. Respectfully. Why flirt with someone who is merely attractive when you don’t know yet whether they’re a boring waste of oxygen? EDIT: Well, ok, some people just want to hook up, and have no interest in the other person’s personality… but talking is a good way to find that out, too.

        • Anonymous

          Oh I agree. That post was mostly tongue in cheek. :)

        • Mike

          Because some men are boring wastes of oxygen too and really do only have sex on the brain when talking to a woman.

  • 1SweetChuck

    I don’t know what this means about me, or women, or the world in general, but I’ve come to the conclusion that it is very easy for me to be impressed by how a woman looks, and rather difficult for me to be to be impressed by her intelligence.  From my experience, I’ve seen thousands, if not tens of thousands of visually impressive women, but only a handful of intellectually impressive women.  I don’t know if this means I’m an evil lecherous hump, or just that my standards for intelligence are much much higher than my standards for beauty.

    The result of this idea in my life is that intelligent women are much more valuable as friends and associates, than beautiful ones.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Liz-Borino/100001617161901 Liz Borino

      That was the most depressing thing I ever read.

    • Anonymous

      I think you can answer your own question by figuring out if your standard for intelligence is consistent between men and women.  If you’re just picky about who you call smart, that’s one thing, but if a man can have a couple good ideas and you think he’s smart, but a woman has to be Marie Curie or France Anne Cordova for you to think her intelligent, then there might just be a problem.

  • Travshad

    Your answer to the question of is a proposition a “sexist act” seems  ridiculous  to me.  You are saying the accumulation of propositions is the problem.  I am sure that is annoying, but it doesn’t make any individual proposition “sexist”.  If it is not the same person making the accumulating propositions, it is not reasonable to hold people responsible for the actions of others. 

    It is not just the accumulation of an action that can cause an issue. Flirting can make some people feel included, while it can make others uncomfortable and push them away.  Just because an action affects you a certain way does not mean it will affect everyone else the same.  If flirting is “sexist” solely depends on the intent of the person flirting.

    I have yet to see any non anecdotal evidence that defines what are the problems.  Until you can define the problem, you can’t begin to find a solution. 

  • Anonymous

    The comments to these posts are so odd to me.  They always seem to degenerate into the minutia instead of addressing the bigger issues. 

    As a civilized society, have we not generally determined how to behave with one another in a respectful manner?  Are the general social rules that difficult to follow?

    We all seem (for the most part) to know how to behave in a work enviromment with others from a sexual attraction perspective.  It seems that the same approach should be taken at an atheist convention, which is really just a professional conference. 

    I have seen many comments from men on this blog that come across as very hostile and sexist when the post is related specifically to sexism in the atheist community, but I have seen the same men post comments that are very equality-based when not discussing this particular line of sexism.  I think these men are making themselves look worse than they are.  I suspect that there is a lot more agreement to the general principals expressed by women here than are articulated when the post is directly about sexism in the atheist community, and I can’t figure out why that is.
     
     

    • Travshad

      I don’t think there is necessarily a specific set of “general social rules”.  I would think the Athiest community draws from a number of diverse communities.  There are significant differences in acceptable and expected behavior in the numerous communities in our various backrounds.

  • Silo Mowbray

    It’s not just atheist communities where the “talk first, flirt later if appropriate” should apply. One that leaps to mind is RenFaire. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen guys in Medici garb sporting a codpiece go up to women, waggle their eyebrows and kiss them on the hand, expecting to be greeted with a titter and a swoon. For fuck sakes dude, if you’re not a charming casanova OUT of your RenFaire garb, you’re not going to suddenly turn into an irresistible chick magnet just by donning a doublet and tights. Oh god those tights. I want to poke out my eyes. I can’t imagine how creepy it must be for most of the women.

  • JOM

      This discussion is not new to any established democratic society. I think they used to call it the “War of the sexes”  I suspect we give to much sway to those that choose to be offended the most.   The truth is no matter what rules of engagement that are proposed someone will most assuredly find a way to get offended.  This is not to invalidate any ones feelings.  Feelings are what they are.

      Unwanted advances are a matter of fact and to “do away” with them may also do away things that are spontaneous and romantic.  How many stories have you heard about older couples and their cute and clumsy beginnings.   It seems to me that this conversation started because it was wondered upon why there are not more woman in atheist gatherings and I feel, at least in part, that this discussion started as a defensive reaction  to that. 

      Or I could be wrong…..

    • Anonymous

      I don’t think Claudia is asking that people never flirt.  There wouldn’t be romance and love and babies and doting grandparents if people never flirted.

      This doesn’t have to be a war of the sexes.  It can be a jumping off point of learning for everyone.  Conversations that start with flirting can be awkward if the person being flirted with isn’t interested.  If it’s obvious that person isn’t comfortable or interested, back off, talk about something else, engage other people to join the conversation or offer an apology and move along. No need to take it personal that someone wasn’t interested.  No need to make it about anything beyond two people not on the same page.  

      And the best part is, maybe you meet someone who will make a good friend instead.  

      Of course if that person is interested there’s no guarantee that you’ll continue to be interested as you continue talking to them!

      Conversation is how we know. We simply need to keep in mind that we’re all individuals and we all react in different ways and that is absolutely okay.

      Unless they’re jerks. Then screw ‘em and walk away!

      • The Other Weirdo

        And by “screw ‘em and walk away!” I assume you mean to make like Eric Cartman and not like a five dollar whore.

        • Anonymous

          I suppose that’s the person’s prerogative on whether they want to physically screw a jerk.

  • Greg

    I didn’t plan to look at any more of these ‘feminist’ blog posts, but I saw it was by Claudia, who’s generally calm and rational about things, so I did.

    Here’s the thing:

    What’s being complained about here isn’t sexism. And that’s probably part of the problem in the discussion. Any time that a group of women/girls/female-people-of-all-ages-and-stripes (however representative of a whole) has an issue, the words sexism and misogyny inevitably pop up, and they get in the way. They raise hackles. They stop debate. And if they are not used properly, the conversation will never even get going.

    Just because an issue involves solely a group of people who are all the same gender doesn’t mean sexism is in play here. It’s like we don’t consider heterosexuals to be sexist because they are attracted to the opposite gender, or pregnancy to be sexist because it only happens to women. Things can happen to exclusively one gender without those things being in any way sexist.

    And that is vital to remember. 

    Here’s what I get from the post:

    Some women get uncomfortable because of repeated advances angling for a sexual (or even, I suppose, just intimate) rendezvous. It isn’t the one advance on its own that’s the problem, however, it’s their frequency. One of these would be fine to deal with. So would two. Maybe five would be just about bearable, but eventually they get all too much, and the afore mentioned women get sick and tired of it. 

    Perfectly understandable and I can empathise with it. Trust me, I can. I really can.

    But it’s not sexist.

    Here’s what I suggest: 

    Take out the terminology relating to sexism and ESPECIALLY relating to misogyny (which is pretty much the opposite of what is being described in the proposition scenario). Address it as a concern that some/many/all women have (delete as appropriate), and see where we go from there. Ideally, stress that this isn’t a sexism issue, too. Men can feel demonised and get on the defensive if they feel they are being accused of sexism (and worse) – especially the ones you want on your side: who deeply care about not being sexist.

    Also, be willing to listen to what the other side has to say – if a community is going to work, then everyone in that community has to have a say, or else one lot of people is going to be disgruntled, left out, and in the end, poisonous to the group as a whole. Too often I find in these sorts of conversations, men get told to shut up and just accept what the women say because they can’t understand how the women feel. Which is counter productive if you want everyone to work together, but also a bit irrelevant. Because however true it may or may not be, it’s exactly the same the other way around too. 

    The problem seems mainly to me to be one of numbers. Women seem vastly outnumbered in the atheist/sceptical/scientific community, and as a result, they are going to be hit on more than men do, leading to the afore mentioned problem.

    My suggestion would be for the people particularly concerned about this to do real, tangible research. Work on discovering the true percentage of women and men who are atheists. See if that corresponds to the percentage that go to meetings. If not, find out why it doesn’t, and see if that could be addressed in the way organisations are run. If it just seems that far more men are atheists than women in general, maybe try to find out why, and then look at ways that more women might be ‘deconverted’. 

    Nobody seems to me to have any actual data out there, just anecdotes – and the plural of anecdotes isn’t data. If data is gathered, then at least there would be a place to start. 

    And all the time, whilst doing this, remember that it may just be that – for whatever reason – certain types of event might appeal more to men than women and vice-versa, and that that isn’t intrinsically a bad thing. What we should be striving for is having enough different things that appeal to everyone, rather than just one thing that fits all – which is impossible. 

    Oh, just so it appears I didn’t miss any of the other examples, I did indeed see the example of a woman suggesting something, and not being listened to and then a man saying the same thing. This seems far more likely to be sexism, however I’d be leery of jumping to conclusions – especially with anecdotes – and would hope any possible study done would have safeguards within it to avoid said jumping to conclusions. The thing is – I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve been arguing about something, or even just suggesting something, been dismissed, and then someone else has come along and said the exact same thing and been acknowledged. A lot of different things can impact upon this – clarity of communication is a big one; but so is reputation; relationship between the people involved; tact; age; first impressions; (other impressions!); and, yes, with some people gender. 

    There are a lot of possible reasons, and if any of them are true and if women are outnumbered by men then you would *expect* the person who eventually gets listened to to be male. Just because there are more men around.

    I’m NOT saying it isn’t sexism and please don’t construe what I am saying as to be trying to argue away any possible sexism. What I AM saying is that care should be taken before jumping to conclusions. It may be being assumed to be sexism when it actually isn’t.

    Sorry for the essay, I hope it’s taken the way it is meant.

    • Anonymous

      I’m thinking that the women on this thread, who have actually lived these experiences, are in an infinitely better position to determine if this is sexism or not. Consider that.

      • The Other Weirdo

        Did you just Holocaust this discussion? “Only the Jews can have anything meaningful to say about the Holocaust.” “Only Muslims can understand the issue surrounding Palestine.” “Only women can have a say in whether something is sexism or not.”

        This suggestion I will fight to my last breath.

        • http://davidcwells.me/ DCW

          Wow. No, you just “Holocausted” the discussion.

          Let me try to explain this: A group of women just spent a decent amount of time eloquently explaining their concerns regarding how they are treated as women. A man, with (presumably) no personal experience of sexism as experienced by women, now presumes to lecture them about why their concerns are invalid.

          I want you to Google two terms: “mansplaining” and “false equivalency.” If you can get to a point where you really understand those concepts, you will hopefully start to feel pretty embarrassed about what you just wrote.

          If it’s any consolation, I’ve been there. Not that I have any obligation to console you over this bullshit.

      • Greg

        Congratulations – I already addressed this (frankly silly) ‘point’. Rather than do it again, I’ll simply point out that if you are unwilling to listen to someone, you should hardly expect them to be willing to listen to you.

        It’s pretty basic etiquette.It’s people like you that mean I don’t pay any attention whatsoever to the discussion any more. And if you honestly want things to change, you don’t do it by making people not bother listening to you.Consider that.

      • Travshad

        Not necessarily.  Those directly involved in a situation often lack the objectivity to rationally analyze the problem.

    • Anonymous

      To address your suggestion that words like “sexism” and “misogyny” be expunged from this discussion, I’d like to say that though I understand where you’re coming from, I have to disagree. I get it, I do. You see the word “sexism” or “mysogyny” in a post, and you groan internally because you know that what’s happening next will be a high-drama pissing contest. Trust me, this happens to the girls as much as to the guys. From that perspective, it makes sense to discard buzzwords that turn people off and try to address each problem individually.

      The issue I have with that is that I don’t think we can effectively deal with these issues unless we see that certain problems are related to one another. It’s the combination and accumulation of many different smaller issues that together contribute to an atmosphere that is unwelcoming or even hostile. Unless you are able to talk about it as a larger issue I don’t think you can really solve it.

      One thing that is difficult to understand and even harder to change, is that an environment can be sexist (or racist, or homophobic etc.) even when the majority of people mean well. When a significant number of women report being treated only as possible conquests at meet-ups, or see their ideas dismissed, or see that every time complaints about bad behavior come up, there seems to be a lot more concern in ensuring it’s Very Clear that not all men are like that or you could be mistaking their intentions than there is in acknowledging and trying to deal with the original issue, then there is a problem, even if the overwhelming majority of people involved would blanch at the notion that they are in any way sexist.

      Finally I’ll just take up this space to add something I ommitted from the original post because it was already too long (I know, you’re shocked I’m long-winded). Another factor contributing to the problem, besides accumulation, is combination. Maybe you got approached by a few guys at a conference who, the minute they figured out you weren’t into them, left. Shit happens. Maybe later you were listening to a discussion and saw how a woman made a given point, which was basically disregarded, but some time later you saw a guy making a very similar point given a lot more attention. Huh. Maybe a few weeks later you’re checking out a video by a YouTube atheist who happens to be female, and see that a fair proportion of the comments are of the “You’re really hot” or “Tits or STFU” variety. Things that may seem like individual assholes or coincidences, when taken together, can start to seem a lot more like part of a pattern.

      So now I’ve repaid you your essay with one which is at least as long ;-)

      • Cd1809

        I’m a pretty nice guy. Been looking forward to going to conferences in the future. But starting with the famous elevator-gate and the many posts before yours are honestly making me not want to attend for fear of bumping shoulders with a woman that’s been hit on all day… Forget even making eye contact and saying hello.

        • Karen L

          Just treat women like regular human beings and you’ll be fine.  Really.

          • Cd1809

            I do. I would. Misquoting Freud: Sometimes a cup of coffee is just a cup of coffee. You know?

            It’s really looking like there are a lot of ladies walking around with a chip on their shoulder.

            • Karen L

              I’m sorry you see people pointing out actual problems as them having a chip on their shoulder.  Not really the same thing at all.

              • EJC

                They are self created problems Karen, not real problems.

                And yes, on the whole, American women have HUGE chips on their shoulders.

            • Anonymous

              Karen L wrote:

              Just treat women like regular human beings and you’ll be fine.

              Cd1809 replied:

              I do. I would.

              Then this previous comment by Karen L should be of relevance to you:

              If you aren’t part of the problem, you don’t need to take it personally when the problem is pointed out.

              • Cd1809

                Since I have a penis it is my problem. Or was this article about some aliens?

                It would be nice if some guys were less arsehole like. It would be nice if some ladies were more forthcoming.

                • Anonymous

                  Since I have a penis it is my problem.

                  Uhm, what?  what does merely having a penis have to do with whether or not you’re “part of the problem”? (and that’s what Karen’s comment was about ~ the issue of being ‘part of the problem’, NOT about it being your problem)

                  You just said that you do treat women like “regular human beings”, so why are you assuming that any of this ‘advice’ is being directed at you?

                  Man, now I really wish Karen’s comment could be posted somewhere as a sticky….

                • Cd1809

                  The ladies talking earlier about all these men that hit on them at conferences (whether or not the guys are assholes).  Even though I’m not looking to hook up, those ladies are on the extreme defensive side.  I’m “just another guy looking to notch my belt” if I talk to them.

                  Yes, I remember that post.  You want to give all the nice guys a gold star for their name tag so we know who is not a part of the “problem”?

                • Karen L

                  If you’re talking to them, not hitting on them, they won’t think you’re looking to ‘notch your belt’.

                  You’re making this way more complicated then it actually is.

                • EJC

                  Because “Axx” girl, your stance is that MALES all contribute to this supposed and alleged air of oppression….

      • Travshad

        Your essay may have been long, but again provided nothing to the discussion but more anecdotes and hypotheticals.  You are making an assumption (that the behavior is related to sexism).  What I think Greg is saying is do actual, tangible and unbiased research.  If you want to correct the problems, we need to know what they are and what are the root causes.  Just because you think it is sexism, doesn’t make it true.

        • Anonymous

          Tell me, when you’ve heard anecdotes about atheist soldiers being treated badly in the military, did you comment that those are “just anecdotes and hypotheticals” and it was wrong to “make the assumption” that it was related to anti-atheist bias? Did you propose that before trying to correct any problems, research should be done?

          Or did you react with an instinctive anger, take the soldiers at their word, and relate their mistreatment to the general problems that atheists have in American society?

          When you’ve heard of African Americans saying they feel uncomfortable in Southern small town America. That they feel like they’re being watched all the time, mistrusted and disliked, do you say “Well those are just anecdotes, give me a study” or do you nod sympathetically, aware that while some incidents may have been misunderstandings, a larger pattern of behavior is obviously present, and can likely be linked to a history of past prejudice?

          I’m all for studies. Do as many studies as you want. I agree that they can be very helpful in diagnosing and treating the problems. However to pretend as if these are just a long string of isolated incidents not worth our collective attention until a paper is published seems to me to to treat the complaints of women as inherently more suspect than the complaints of others.

          Look, all that’s really being asked is for guys (and girls) to be aware of the social context in which they exist, and to treat women as if they were whole people of value, and explain a what that social context is like, for those who don’t actually have to live it. That really is it, and I hardly think it’s too much to ask. Cheers.

          • Travshad

            I am not sure what anecdotes about soldiers you are talking about.  If these were in a post on this site, then they didn’t upset me enough to remember.  I do remember posts on the cross on public land at a millitary base (picture was included), the post about the soldier that refused to bow his head during a public prayer (quotes from the soldier and a spokesperson of the base were included), and the spiritual fitness survey given to soldiers (screen caps of the actual survey).   These specific actions angered me. 

            There have been a multitude of surveys, hidden TV shows, and actual academic studies on how blacks have been treated in the South.  I grew up in the South, attended the lilliest white Southern Baptist church in town, and secretly was involved with a lovely young black boy.  I understand how white people I knew thought they treated black people, I understand how some  black people felt they were treated by society.  But my impressions, regardless of how deeply I feel them , are not objective.  I was too close to the situation and would  be a bad source to determine what are the real problems.

            I don’t need to pretend anything about a long stream of incidents, since no one has provided details of a long string of incidents.  The topic at hand is how women are treated within the formal Atheist community (conferences, gatherings, websites, etc.) not how they are treated in society at large.  I don’t think anyone has objectively defined what is the specific problem.  If the question is women feeling they are not fully valued.  First you need to determine if women are or are not valued in the community.  Just because you feel you are being treated a certain way, doesn’t mean that you are actually being treated that way.  I have frequently felt that someone was treating me in a homophobic way, sometimes I was correct, often I was wrong.  I have been in places where I didn’t feel I belonged (the “wrong” church, the “wrong” club) and was absolutely certain everyone was watching, judging me.  When in reality noone really noticed me at all.   Being too close effects objectivity.

            If the problem is that women are actively being devalued within the community, that is a diffent problem that requires a very different approach. 

            Of course it is likely to be a combination of both.  I don’t think just asking people to act better in these posts will make any difference.  Until the question of how women are valued is taken more seriously with a more formal approach, I wouldn’t expect quick or significant progress.

      • Greg

        Actually, no, you don’t completely get what I was saying. Partly, but not fully! :)
        My point isn’t just that using words like sexism prevent a discussion taking place – there are actually times when I’d say the terms are used very worthily. My point is that this doesn’t seem to be one of those discussions. Just so we can get our terms clear here, when I talk about something like sexism, I’m talking about the pretty standard dictionary definition:

        sexism:

        1. attitudes or behaviour based on traditional stereotypes of sexual roles.

        2. discrimination or devaluation based on a person’s sex, as in restricted job opportunities; especially, such discrimination directed against women.

        I just lifted that from the first online dictionary I came across. They’re all pretty much the same.

        Now, as far as I can see, nothing that you are describing can reasonably be described as sexist (by that definition). That is my problem here.

        The waters are made muddier, of course, by the fact that sexual attraction is (usually) based upon genders (leaving aside asexuals, bisexuals, and pansexuals for the moment).  But I don’t think anyone would reasonably cause sexual orientation sexist, would they? My point is that the reason behind the propositioning and even perhaps some of the comments on the YT videos seems not to be caused by sexism, but rather by sexual attraction.

        When you add the gender disparity in events, then suddenly you have a pretty compelling reason for the uncomfortability some women are feeling, without bring sexism into the picture at all. 

        In fact, looked at that way, sexism just looks like a red herring. Does that better explain what I said?

        Of course, if true, the suggestion that ideas aren’t being taken seriously because of gender would certainly be sexist, but for something like that anecdotes are the worst possible thing to build an argument on. You need a study that makes sure that men aren’t finding the same thing; that age isn’t a factor; that position in the organisation/academic world/etc. isn’t a factor; and even then you have still more factors like skill of communication, or how well known the people involved are, and countless other ones that you have to rule out. There are so many things it might be.

        So it’s clear: I can understand that it might feel as though it is sexist to the person suffering it, but that doesn’t mean it actually is.  For example (and this is just a hypothetical):

        It is possible that two people go to a job interview, one man, and one woman. The man gets the job and the woman doesn’t. The woman might feel this was as a result of sexism. And it might well be! However, the fact she feels that way doesn’t mean it actually is sexism – the man may simply have been the best man for the job. Even if their credentials are identical, he might have had a fantastic interview.

        There are other extremely plausible possibilities for what’s happening, that don’t include sexism, and yet it is being assumed de facto in blog posts that sexism is the cause. And that is the problem in these conversations: it’s a bit like being assumed guilty until proven innocent.

        Because sexism is such a powerful word, if it is invoked wrongly, then there is going to be both tonnes of indignation in the resultant ‘discussions’, and also scepticism the next time it is invoked.

        I strongly feel that if the words are used with responsibility, conversations actually have a hope of getting somewhere.

        Let’s assume for a moment that if we look deeply into this, we’ll find that sexism actually is the cause of everything that is being complained about. Isn’t it still better to wait until we have deeply looked into it before labelling it as such?

        Maybe I could distil my initial essay and this one into one short-ish sentence. I’m advocating caution in jumping to conclusions, and caution in using divisive language where it isn’t warranted.

        I have to be honest – I feel like I’m walking a tightrope at the moment. I certainly don’t think I’m in any way sexist, and I can’t stress enough how much I am fundamentally against it and yet I fear there will be people who take me as being such. (Indeed, I’m pretty sure that’s already happened – I hasten to say not by you.) So – yeah – there’s another disclaimer! :)

        Oh, and nothing wrong with a good long essay or two – just as long as people are respectful, and know when to stop, they are the best kind! :) Although perhaps threaded comments aren’t the best place for them… (!)

        Hopefully I’ve clarified what I wanted to say.

    • Caravelle

      … Alternatively, people could get a grip and avoid going nuts as soon as the words “sexism” or “misogyny” are mentioned.
      I agree those are conversation-stoppers for many people, and that this is a problem, but I’d say the problem isn’t with those who dare use those words when they feel they apply.
      As  for how one can diminish their power as conversation-stoppers – well, by saying those words one normalizes them, and by applying them to certain concepts one normalizes the idea that they do apply to those concepts, and by reacting to the concept instead of pouncing on (or running away from) the word others can model a non-panic reaction that may spread to others. Maybe that could work.

      • Greg

        It all depends what your goal is, doesn’t it?

        If you want to actually get anywhere, then you want to be careful not to behave in such a way that no-one you’re talking to wants to listen to you. 

        If you don’t care about that…

        Just so my opinion is crystal clear:

        The problem isn’t with the people when they use such words when they do apply. The problem is with the people who use the words when they don’t apply. 

        Essentially, people who [i]feel[/i] they are using it correctly should make sure they [i]are[/i] using it correctly.

        And that’s how their power as conversation stoppers gets neutered the easiest – [b]by using them correctly[/b]. 

    • http://profile.typepad.com/6p010536ce50d4970c «bønez_brigade»

      Excellent points, Greg.  The continued misapplication of the “sexist”
      and “misogynist” labels is undoubtedly hurting the whole dialogue.

      The recent Ben Radford ordeal/flub is making for a perfect example, with so many of his opponents casually slinging said labels at him for what appears to be nothing more than his ignorance on the subject.  And that is _not_ helping to advance the discussion or to help him to see if/where he’s wrong.  Nor does it help when other high-profile bloggers are irrational dicks about it.

      • Greg

        Thanks! :)

        I hesitate to ask what the Ben Radford ordeal is – I’ve clearly managed to avoid it thus far(!) A little glance on the internet shows that Rebecca Watson is involved, which I fear isn’t a good sign. She is certainly someone I feel misuses those words all too often.

        I think I’ll pass on the latest drama to hit the webs!

  • Ndonnan

    heres the single reason women will be propositioned at a conferance,atheism as a belief system says”this is it,your one shot at life,go for it ,theres nothing else”,so a room full of “white males”,with this belief says why not go for it,the wifes at home, my consceince is only my perverted upbringing,so why not. and if you think most men with this mindset would rather your opinion or your ass,most will go for the latter,then give lipservice to your opinions,,,sorry to put it so bluntly

    • Trina

      If this is true, remind me never to go to a conference!  I’ve been to many conferences in my time, and been treated more like a human being than that!

      • Anonymous

        Before cancelling any plans to go to conferences, keep in mind that Ndonnan’s actual “point” was that atheist men will behave badly because atheism leads to moral pervesion, Stalin, Pol Po…ZZZzzzZZzzzzZz

        Just your regular trolling, disregard.

    • Karen L

      Wow.  So your defense is basically ‘men are pigs’?  I’m insulted for men.

      Thinking that this life is your one shot in no way means disrespecting others in your quest to get what you want.

    • The Other Weirdo

      Wow! This is the dumbest thing I’ve heard on this thread, or on any thread. Even Christian ones. Oh, and a nice bit of racism there. How nice.

    • The Other Weirdo

      Wow! That’s the dumbest thing I’ve seen on this thread, or any thread. Even on Christian sites. And a nice bit of racism, too. Congrats.

  • http://davidcwells.me/ David C. Wells

    This is largely in response to s0mething The Other Weirdo said above, about “no” not always meaning “no.”

    First off, that’s bullshit. I needed to get that out of the way.

    Now, suppose you are at a conference, you see a woman you find attractive, and you talk to her. Eventually, the talk goes to taking things to another level (if you know what I mean.) She says no.

    Maybe she says it politely, maybe rudely, maybe in an utterly neutral tone. It makes no difference, because she said no.

    1. Do you assume she is a mature, intelligent, autonomous adult (which she is) and either (a) dial it back and continue a civil, adult conversation; or (b) say a few polite pleasantries and move on?

    OR

    2. Do you assume that, since “no” might not really mean “no,” that you should keep at it, or even double down on your flirting? Anything, really, to indicate that you are not giving up? (This is the logical result of believing “no” might not mean “no.”)

    Option 1 allows you to move on and meet even more awesome people, eventually finding someone you can have a mature adult relationship with (which leads to freaking awesome sex).

    Option 2 leads to either extreme social awkwardness (or a restraining order), or sex that you had to talk someone into.

    Here’s my actual question from all that buildup: If you choose Option 1, and it turns out she actually did mean “yes,” what exactly have you missed out on? How much infinitely worse is your life going to be because you missed out on getting laid when someone said no to you and you believed them? If sex is more important to you than being a decent human being, at least be honest about it.

    The bigger point, which many guys on here seem determined to miss because *they* are “nice guys,” is that it’s fine to flirt, but try talking first. It’s not hard to tell if someone is at least enjoying talking to you. If they’re not, or if they say no to anything, move the hell on.

    Finally, my own conclusion: this is not a bunch of atheist women whining. This is a bunch of dudes whining because they have to face the fact that women aren’t there first and foremost for them to fuck. Get over it.

    • The Other Weirdo

      Ha! If you think that every woman means everything that she says in regards to propositions, etc, you’re living in denial. Sorry, but it’s true. And if you think that every woman who’s ever said “no” didn’t mean “I invite you to carry on” then you’re living in even deeper denial.

      Personally, I take everything that women say at face value, which has gotten me some strange reactions because my walking away from a “no” wasn’t the expected move.

      In addition, I don’t assume that every woman is mature, intelligent or autonomous. My experience suggests otherwise, though they don’t seem to realize it.

      Also, who is talking relationships? People don’t hook at conferences for a relationship. It’s nice if it happens, but if you’re to get the other person into your bed(or yourself into theirs) it’s highly doubtful you’re looking for anything permanent. Or even profound. Except, maybe, profound short-term sex.

      • http://davidcwells.me/ DCW

        You live in a very sad little world.

        • The Other Weirdo

          Why? Because I disagree with you?

          • http://davidcwells.me/ DCW

            No, because you view the world through a child’s eyes. We’re done here.

            • EJC

              Actually “DCW”, if anything, you don’t have much in the way of reading comprehension, because what this poster was saying was pretty much spot on.

              There was nothing childish in his post, but there certainly was from you…

              Oh yes, what was it you were wont to say at the end of your post…”We’re done here”.

      • http://twitter.com/FelyxLeiter Felyx Leiter

        WE WOMEN on this atheist board, who will be the women at atheist conferences, are telling you that we mean it when we say, “No means no.”  I’m sure there are women in the general population who don’t say what they mean and expect you to play along.  Not one of them has commented here to encourage it.

        • The Other Weirdo

          Interesting. Who authorized you to speak for all atheist women attending atheist conventions? Or did you mean just the half-dozen or so of you that have commented?

  • http://frontendpost.com/ FredTheWebGuy

    OK, I’ve been a lurker for a looooong time and I *think* I’ve posted here in the past once or twice but after seeing all of this unfold, I have to chime in.

    Guys: treat women like a PERSON, as John Cleese said in The Meaning of Life, there’s no need to stampede towards the clitoris. If you have to get laid that badly, go home and have a wank and get it over with, your performance will probably be better that way anyway. If you genuinely like a girl and your flirting is coming across as creepy, she will let you know and if you can’t pick up the signals, you may need to be turned down and then before you learn some plain ol’ experience in proper etiquette.

    Women: Of course you should stand up to guys treating you like meat. When they do, call them on it, even when it seems like “harmless” Internet play or in-person pub flirting. Guys, well, anyone who won’t support this are assholes. I’m not a woman so that’s as far as I can go based on my lack of experience in such matters.

    Guys: There is very much a fine line between flirting and being either desperate or creepy/threatening. As an almost 40-year-old guy, for me to think that I would even inadvertently act this way towards a woman is repulsive, not to mention plain stupid. If you can’t see the verbal or vocal cues that your gestures of a little ass-to-mouth hopes are being extinguished then it’s not her fault, it’s yours. You’ll learn in time if you’re a decent person, even if you have a hiccup or two along the way. BUT, your lack of social graces does not excuse a continued pattern of acting like a frat boy and just because some women are OK with the Douchy McDoucherson types doesn’t mean those who aren’t are therefore whining, hate men, or are bitter from not getting any. When we choose to flirt with someone no matter how harmlessly, we do not have carte blanche in how we behave because we think we’re “nice guys” or “mean well’. Besides, even if casual sex is fun and harmless in the right circumstances, isn’t an actual connection also fun, even enlightening and hilarious? That’s good stuff, too.

    Why is this so hard to understand for those trying to rock the boat against the waves of fairness? Is what’s right really THAT much of an inconvenience to some people?

    I know in social terms I don’t ‘play the game’ so I may be out of touch but it seems a pretty simple equation here. I see too much emotion getting in the way of this and while I can see why, I fail to understand it in a way that puts me at ease.

    /shrugs in frustration, pours a whiskey

    • Anonymous

      As an almost 40-year-old guy, for me to think that I would even inadvertently act this way towards a woman is repulsive, not to mention plain stupid. If you can’t see the verbal or vocal cues that your gestures of a little ass-to-mouth hopes are being extinguished then it’s not her fault, it’s yours. You’ll learn in time if you’re a decent person, even if you have a hiccup or two along the way. BUT, your lack of social graces does not excuse a continued pattern of acting like a frat boy and just because some women are OK with the Douchy McDoucherson types doesn’t mean those who aren’t are therefore whining, hate men, or are bitter from not getting any.

      Great post :)   not just the above, but all of it.

      • http://frontendpost.com/ FredTheWebGuy

        Cheers. ;)

        I probably missed a gap here or there but the sentiment remains.

    • Trina

      Fred, thanks so much for saying this!  Unfortunately, I think it will bear more wait because it’s a man saying it. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/eukota Darrell Ross

      Sweet. Everything I would want to say but in a concise single post.
      Thanks!

      • http://frontendpost.com/ FredTheWebGuy

        Thanks…I was starting to doubt my overly-colorful use of certain sexual acts there but meh, whatchagonnado.

    • http://www.facebook.com/Tracy.Bradley1 Tracy Bradley

      Yes to this. Thank you, Fred!

      A young male member of my family has NLD (non-verbal learning disorder), meaning he truly can’t interpret body language, facial cues, etc. When in high school, he got in a bit of trouble because he was staring at girls in his classes, and it creeped them out. He meant no harm – he just had no idea that this was a creepy thing to do. When he found out that it was considered creepy, he didn’t freak out, get angry, say “well I didn’t mean it in a creepy way, there was no threat, what’s their problem?” He listened, asked questions, learned, and stopped doing it because he didn’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable, purposely or inadvertently.

      What gets me about this whole discussion (not just here, not just this thread) is that some men immediately make assumptions and/or get defensive and upset rather than asking questions to clarify points that they either don’t understand or take issue with.

      • http://frontendpost.com/ FredTheWebGuy

        Thanks for sharing that. :) The problem IMO is that so many guys (I hesitate to say ‘most’ but it is very tempting) don’t consider the impact of their reaction or lack thereof to those important cues. When it comes right down to it, we’re dealing with very real and clear indicators and that there are a lot of guys who make assumptions whether based on a lack of experience or some kind of self-imposed pressure to obtain validation without realizing they’re dealing with a fucking human being here. Questions matter and the willingness and choice to really listen matters, too, perhaps more so. :)

  • http://rosalarian.com Rosalarian

    Claudia… thank you. Even if it doesn’t get through all the thick skulls it needs to, I feel a little better being in the world now that you’ve said this.

  • Kit

    Two points about privilege and one possible solution.

    First, it boggles my mind how much privilege men have that some people who comment on this issue (men and some women, too) are willing say to 50% of the population, “That’s the way it is, deal with it,” and believe that’s why women should give up on expecting to be treated with the same general respect afforded men by men and women.

    In other words, these philosophers think the burden is entirely upon women to accommodate a possible cultural and/or biological inability of men to treat women as they treat other men. It’s not.

    Second, I belong to another historically male-dominated community, but one that has improved dramatically in its treatment of female scholars since the 1970s. This is because groups of male and female scholars within it started to focus on women’s issues as they pertain to our discipline and our professional organizations actively sought out women to join in conversations. The result? Conferences today are more welcoming and a much more positive experience for women than what my mentors tell me it was like even only fifteen years ago. More women have joined the discipline. And I work in a niche field that was started by a conservative women in the 19th century.

    I think women need to organize more within the secular community. If the only visible female presence is in some individuals sprinkled in the audience and occasionally speaking onstage, it’s going to take us a long time to bring about real change in how women experience these events and how everyone views our place within the community.

    This might seem like “special treatment” to some at first, but you really can’t overcome the privilege problem by doing nothing. Combating privilege is not an attack on the privileged group, but on their power monopoly. To people not familiar with the concept of privilege: I am not at all trying to attack men by suggesting that women organize. I like most of the men I know. If you’re a man (esp a man who reads Friendly Atheist), then I’d probably like you as much as I’d like anyone. Men’s contributions are certainly just as worthy as women’s contributions to the community. But there’s a real problem here and while the “proposition” question promotes a good discussion about boundaries, whatever the answer is to that question will not solve the larger problem.

  • Justin Miyundees

    “Table for two?”
    “Yes please.”
    “Flirting or Non-flirting?”
    “Non flirting please and can you tell me where the men’s elevator is?”
    “It’s just there across the lobby.”
    “Thank you.”
    .
    .
    .
    “Hey – how’s it going?”
    “None of your business.”
    “Going down?”
    “POLICE!!  HELP!!! POLICE!!!”

  • JeseC

    The problem is not only the frequency of such approaches, but also their ratio to non-sexual approaches by men.  Not to mention a frequent dearth of the latter category.  How many men at such conferences approach women because they are interested in an intelligent conversation, liked her ideas, or otherwise just want to be friendly?  A lot of men seem to have on mental blinders when it comes to such things…watch who men go to talk to about questions or ideas.  It’s not just that we’re being approached by men interested in sex too much, it’s that we’re *not* being approached by men interested in, you know, the kinds of things we actually go to conferences and meet-ups for. 

    • JeseC

      I should also point out that it can be very difficult to approach men, as many guys will take any friendly overture as a come-on.  Inviting a man to coffee or lunch with you is seen as a date, even if a man inviting another man to the exact same thing would be a token of friendship.

  • Alt+3

    In light of the parts of this post saying you have to read a situation to determine if something is appropriate I’d like to point out that a lot, like, a metric-shittonne of people are either very bad at or entirely incapable of reading things like social and non-verbal cues. Perhaps we need to agree on a system of discrete, non-confusing symbols that can help illustrate things you want to be known (Jen at BlagHag mentioned a conference she went to where they put stickers on their nametags to signal whether it was appropriate to, for instance, hug someone).

    I’d also like to share something my counsellor told me. If you’re in a situation where people are being confusing or you don’t know if something is appropriate or not, just don’t say anything. There’s almost never a time where it’s unacceptable to be quiet.

  • NickDB

    I find this all quite sad. Going to use a personal anecdote here, and hopefully some of the guys responsible for this problem learn from it. Once at a club a friend of mine had his eye on a particular lady, anyway they ended up hooking up and her friend and I were left at the bar trying to have a conversation. After awhile she said, why don’t we go somewhere quiet, my reply was “Great idea, we can hear each other much better then!” (I was and still am completely oblivious, which my wife finds cute)

    We ended up finding a all night pizza place and sat talking, eating pizza and drinking wine until sunrise. Ended up in a relationship, even though that was the last thing either of us had in mind when we went out that night. When you meet a lady, try and connect with something other than base instinct.

    A night spent eating pizza and drinking wine is much preferable to bumping uglies behind the dustbins for 20 minutes, and usually brings far better rewards.

    Whilst atheists really only have a lack of belief in god in common, I’d like to think that we got to our lack of belief through using rational thought, logic and common sense, surely then as rational human beings, we’re all capable of controlling our base urges? We should be able to connect with each other, regardless of gender on a higher level than sex.

    So guess what I’m saying is that if you’re looking for a quick romp between the sheets, try a bar or a club, not a convention where people are trying to share ideas and philosophies. There is appropriate place for each activity desire.

  • Trina

    I’m positively astonished at the venom and defensiveness in some of the comments here.  

    I’m appalled at the “well, we’re men, deal with it” excuse for bad behavior.  Each side can give a little; it doesn’t mean that women should be the only ones making concessions.  Men, even when attracted to women, can go about expressing interest in a civilized manner.  I know, I’ve seen it!  There’s nothing wrong with flirting, so long as you respect it when someone doesn’t flirt back.  Flirting can be fun and entirely benign; it doesn’t even necessarily have to lead to anything further.    

    Since we’re talking about conferences and meetings, generally, I’ve been to many of them (though not atheist ones, due to health issues having come up around the time I first became interested in joining the atheist community).  At *none* of the conferences I’ve ever attended, the subjects of which were quite varied,  did I receive the kind of treatment I’ve been hearing about in the last couple of days here, though I’ve certainly experienced it in workplace environments.  And believe me, I spoke up about it to the person concerned, in those cases. 

    There are two primary issues being addressed, here.    One is that of women’s thoughts and opinions being overlooked in group situations, when a man later says the same thing the woman did and is taken seriously.  That’s just plain ridiculous, and shouldn’t be happening.   Saying that it happens in larger society is true, but no excuse. 

    The second issue, of men apparently trolling for women at these events, is equally distasteful.   If you’re just looking for sex, then attend to that in casual situations where it’s more appropriate.

    And my feelings about women treating men in such a way are exactly the same. 

    Genetics, and even societal norms, are not destiny when it comes to dealing with the opposite sex (or the same sex, if you’re so inclined).   To be blunt, men have brains as well as dicks, and they can use those brains and a sense of integrity to treat women fairly.  It happens all the time.  I’d like to see it happen more here!

    • Trina

      P.S.  I’m not a man-hater.  I think a lot of men are wonderful.  I hate to see some unknown percentage of immature individuals polarize an issue that shouldn’t even need to *be* an issue. 


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