A Not At All Relevant to Elevatorgate Post

A Not At All Relevant to Elevatorgate Post July 27, 2011

I first saw this on Google+ and, given the flame wars that have roiled atheism lately, I thought it was worth sharing. Who knows but that it may help some people to see these issues presented in a different context.

You may have heard of Wil Wheaton (and if you don’t, and you consider yourself a geek, you have some explaining to do). Well, the other day, he posted this:

When I was a Teen Idol, and I traveled to New York for publicity all the time, it was fairly common for a handful of super weird people to hang out all day in front of my hotel, or in the lobby of my hotel, so they could pounce on me whenever I tried to enter or leave, and demand as many autographs as they could. It was really creepy and awful, and I always hated it. It was more than a little scary. I mean, who in the world spends an entire day sitting in one place waiting for someone? Oh, I know: crazy people.

…When we walked out of the SyFy party on Saturday night, a pack of people — probably 12 or 15, I’d guess — appeared out of nowhere, and surrounded me. They shoved pictures into my face, thrust pens at me, and made it so that I couldn’t even move. They separated me from my friends and my son, and, quite frankly, terrified me.

Let’s stop for a second and think about this: in what kind of world is it acceptable to surround a person you do not know, separate them from the people they are with, and essentially trap them? Maybe in crazy entitled psycho world, but not the world I live in.

I certainly hope the parallels are sufficiently clear. Stalking a person and waiting until they’re in a semi-private or private setting, rather than approaching them during the public event they were just attending? Check. Trapping them in a situation they can’t easily escape so that you can force your attention on them, regardless of what they may think about it? Check. And acting like a pack of braying, entitled jackasses when that person responds poorly? Yep, we’ve got that too:

A woman stormed up next to me and said, “If you don’t sign these things for me, I’m going to tell Twitter what an asshole you really are.”

Do you think we’ll hear the usual excuses in this situation? “Hey, those people couldn’t have known their idol wouldn’t like them stalking him and waiting for him outside his hotel to demand autographs. Some stars would probably have welcomed it! They had the absolute right to talk to him, and if he didn’t want to interact with them, all he had to do was say so. How would ordinary people ever meet their favorite celebrities if we declare in advance that they’re never allowed to talk to them under any circumstances?” Do these rationalizations still sound plausible when transplanted to a different context? Would anyone care to defend the behavior of the people Wheaton talks about in his post?

What this shows is that the problem of That Guy-ism isn’t restricted to sexual situations, or even to men. (Turns out people of every stripe don’t like being stalked, cornered and harassed by creepy strangers! Who would have guessed?) But in a group like the atheist community, which has a significant imbalance of men over women, most manifestations of this problem are inevitably going to be gender-based.

If we’re ever going to correct this situation, we need to make sure every atheist knows some basic rules of etiquette: don’t treat others in ways that display a sense of entitlement, don’t stalk or harass them, don’t corner them and force your attention on them in situations where it’s not likely to be welcomed, and above all, when people make reasonable requests not to be treated a certain way, don’t make excuses, don’t argue, just listen to them! This message really shouldn’t be difficult, much less inspire the amount of resistance it has, but I intend to keep repeating it until it sinks in.

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