If you don’t know what Elevatorgate is, it’s the latest blogstorm in the skeptosphere, and I blogged a bit on it last week. Basically, Rebecca Watson of Skepchick made a calm, nuanced, proportionate statement* about an example of the sort of insensitive behaviour that discourages many women from attending skeptical meetings, and people went apeshit with lots of strawfeminist bullshit about her alleged hysterical man-hating ways. Lindsay Beyerstein on Big Think weighs in:
Any rational person should be able to understand the proscription against hitting on female strangers in elevators.
You’re familiar with the concept of the elevator pitch, right, fellow nerds? That’s the thirty-second pitch for your brilliant invention that you will deliver to the CEO of your company if you ever get her alone in an elevator. Ever wonder why it’s called an “elevator pitch,” as opposed to a “hotel lobby pitch” or a “gastro-pub pitch”? Because an elevator is an enclosed space where you might find yourself face-to-face with someone whom you wouldn’t ordinarily talk to, and, at least for those few seconds, that person is your captive audience.
This only works in movies. The nerd fantasy of the elevator pitch is about as realistic as the fantasy of the nymphomanical space twins with a thing for Magic the Gathering–but that doesn’t make it any less compelling. But if you understand the appeal of the elevator pitch, you should understand why it’s inappropriate to proposition a woman in an elevator: she is your captive audience.
It is awkward. It is presumptuous. It is rude. It is also a little unnerving.
Ironically, no one hates high pressure sales tactics more than skeptics. We can’t stand it when a sales associate gets in our face and uses cheap psychological tricks to try to make us buy stuff we don’t want. We take it as an insult to our intelligence. We resent it.
No one is saying that men shouldn’t flirt. On the contrary. When flirting goes well, everyone walks away with a little extra spring in their step, even if they walk away alone. Flirting is play. The point of flirting is to make the other person feel good–maybe to entice them to have sex with you, or maybe as an end in itself. Flirting is not high pressure sales.
If you want to approach a female stranger, especially when she’s alone at night, do so in a well-lit public place, preferably with other people nearby. Don’t corner her. Strike up a conversation about something neutral. If you’re at a conference, you should have plenty to talk about. Gradually work up to a more personal conversation.
Remember, these are women you like and admire, women whom you hope to charm and put at ease. It is in your best interest, as well as theirs, to approach them in a manner they find congenial.
I also like what Lindsay says about the constant state of vigilance women maintain about our sexual safety, especially how it’s not a debilitating state of fear that dominates every moment, but more like living with hay-fever that won’t go away – one gets on with one’s life of “making discoveries, or climbing mountains, or falling in love” and mostly forgets about it most of the time, but it is still always in the background as an energy cost that has to be taken into consideration when making choices, because we know what happens when we are simply perceived to have not been vigilant enough.
No doubt there are still some Rebecca-is-a-manhater dudes out there who cannot or will not see what the problem is, because Elevator-Guy-didn’t-mean-any-harm and it’s-wrong-to-treat-an-ordinary-guy-as-a-threat, but here’s the other thing which is not being mentioned all that much about this incident: even if he’d been less “cornering her” with his proposition, such as making it in the bar earlier, or in the lobby before they got on the lift, or waiting until they were no longer in a confined space, Elevator Guy still would have been waving warning flags about his insensitive-to-women attitude that would make most women wary of him and unlikely to respond favourably. In case you really don’t know what those warning flags were with Elevator Guy, let me lay it out for you.
Rebecca had spent a lot of time at that very conference talking about misogyny in the atheist movement and how the way in which she personally is objectified and sexualised by atheist/skeptical men at meetings is creepy and offputting. Elevator Guy’s out-of-the-blue proposition showed that either he hadn’t been listening to what she had been saying, or he didn’t think that it was important.
Does anybody really think that a man blithely ignoring what a woman has said she finds objectionable, clearly not considering it interesting/important enough to respect her stated wishes, is a man that most woman would find at all appealing? Acting against a woman’s known objections is creepy on its own, because it waves a warning flag that any other objections might also be ignored.
This is the other reason that Rebecca said “Guys, don’t do that”, with respect to misogyny in the atheist/skeptical movement – if skeptical men keep on showing skeptical women that they don’t listen to or respect what we have to say (about what we do and do not find congenial especially, but also our other opinions), then we will see that we are not being treated as equals, we will find that creepy, we will be pissed off about feeling unsafe and disrespected, and we won’t want to be around it in the future. That’s already why so many of us do our skeptical activism online rather than in meetings anyway, and the shitstorm flung at Rebecca for merely recommending a modicum of equal respect for women as a basic standard of behaviour just confirms our existing opinions of most IRL skeptical spaces being terribly unappealing.