Four simple words from a videocast in June of this year. An elevator was involved (the video also discussed issues around “Mythbusters, Robot Eyes, Feminism, and Jokes”), and the point of those four words was to offer helpful advice regarding high-pressure-towards-women behaviour that men would be best to avoid if they wish to encourage women to be repeat-attendees at Skeptic gatherings.
Months later, the woman who spoke these four words is still dealing with a raging deluge of cyber-harassment in response, including rape and death threats. People have created single-purpose blogs devoted to denouncing Rebecca Watson over and over again because she dared to mention an uncomfortable incident with one man as an example of a pervasive attitude problem within the skeptical movement; a previously respected science blogger has not only allowed but actively encouraged her own blog’s comment threads to become a cesspit of abusive tirades and threats against Watson; there have been many calls for various conventions and seminars to cancel her bookings as a speaker or panellist.
Even for those who disagreed with Watson’s general point in that videocast: surely this mild statement of hers cannot possibly justify such an intensely disproportionate reaction?
However, supposedly, it’s the feminazi zone of the blogosphere which is obsessed with this issue (at least according to some of these comments at Pharyngula – PZ is typically on the money, the regular commentors even more so).
Am I obsessed with Elevatorgate? No. Am I going to sit by and say nothing while howler monkeys attempt to intimidate Watson into silence and push her into obscurity? HELL NO.
Watson made very valid points about the way in which a disconcerting number of skeptical men at gatherings feel entitled to crowd around and attempt to monopolise the attention of any woman they find attractive, without considering whether the woman was attempting to invite such attention, whether she is comfortable receiving it or whether their intrusive attention-seeking might be corralling her into obligatory politenesses that prevent her from actually attending the speeches/seminars/panels she came there (and paid money) to experience. There are many, many skeptical women who never go to more than one gathering because of this behavioural pattern, and who warn other skeptical women about it so that many others decide to never go to a gathering at all.
Pointing out how harmful this perpetuation of actively-repellent behaviour is to a movement that claims to want to grow in membership and influence is surely an important service to the community – but for this Watson has been vilified.
The howler monkeys have made it crystal clear that the only women they want around are those whom they find acceptably decorative and supportive. They don’t want anybody to challenge their preconceptions of themselves as Super-Rational, which means that they are hardly all that skeptical, really. They’re also not the core of the movement that they like to imagine themselves as, they’re just the ones making most noise.
It’s only logical: if skeptics want to make women feel welcome in the movement, neither intrusive high-pressure approaches to women at gatherings nor vituperative vilification of women who call men out for intrusive high-pressure approaches to women at gatherings is the way to go about it.
I’m going to repeat, and keep on repeating so long as the intimidation persists – guys, don’t do that.