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.
*h/t to PZ for the perfect phrase
Image Credit: index thumbnail image of an elevator gate comes from this CCL image on Flickr uploaded by nonelvis
Categories: ethics & philosophy, gender & feminism, relationships, skepticism
Ooh, I like the hard sell/creepy flirting comparison. It’s been a while since I was last hit on in a creepy way, but yes, the feeling is exactly the same as when salespeople try to corner you and make you buy something (or donate to charity; I know the charity folks are doing good, but I want to make an informed decision when I donate — I’m not going to give people in the street money because they imply that if you don’t, you are an evil person who wants puppies and sick children to DIE).
It seems that in this instance, the MRA-skeptic types are reading Watson’s dislike of hard sell flirting as her wanting THE MENZ TO DIE.
Yours is one of the most coherent and reasonable pieces that takes a stance opposite of mine.
But I still have to disagree. I don’t disagree with your whole point, per se. What I disagree with is turning a simple incident into the poster child for misogyny in the skeptical movement.
He asked, despite her having previously said no – obviously he, like so many of us pesky humans hoped he could change someone’s mind – and when she told him no, he backed off. End of story.
Had he not backed off, then I could understand where everyone is coming from. But she told him no, and he backed off.
This should be the end of the story.
It’s the people who excoriated Rebecca for even mentioning that she found this behaviour inappropriate who’ve turned this into a blogstorm. Are the rest of us supposed to just ignore the vicious things they’ve said to her for simply pointing out that Elevator Guy was disrespecting her stated preferences in the most inappropriate place possible, and that guys generally should show women more respect than that? Because that is all that she said.
Obviously, I disagree, for the reasons outlined in my post. Sure, many of us pesky humans definitely do persist with offers despite previous refusals, but just because it’s a common behaviour doesn’t make it any the less obnoxious and discomforting to the person being pestered. It was worth calling out simply for being an obnoxious pest even if there hadn’t been the added element of cornering in a confined space.
I have been following this a bit and your latest analysis is really interesting. I don’t move in skeptic circles at all but I have had a thought:
Is the refusal to accept that a woman shouldn’t have to be appreciative of a man’s advances a kind of geek social fallacy? Of course I don’t mean to imply rationalists/skeptics are necessarily geeks but it seems a lot like the GSF#1 Ostracisers are Evil.
Of course, the more I think about it the more what I’ve just described seems to be a general patriarchal social fallacy.
Tamara, the Geek Social Fallacy comparison is an interesting one.
Links for those unfamiliar with the concept:
Five Geek Social Fallacies
Geek Social Fallacy Addendum
Mandi, I actually don’t see why someone has the right to try to change somone’s mind. Just because it may be human nature to be persistent doesn’t make it okay to do in any situation.
To persist in a sexual advance in a enclosed space is creepy. It is not the same as someone persisting in getting me to order “fries with that”.
Well I guess I should also state that I take issue with turning a man’s proposition for coffee into a sexual thing.
Only Rebecca and the man in the elevator know what tone or facial expressions were used to make this an innuendo (if it was intended to be such).
Based on Rebecca’s original video and her account of the event, I don’t think it’s fair to jump to such conclusions.
It wasn’t just coffee, it was come back to my room for coffee. One is a clichéd sexual innuendo, the other one isn’t.
The other thing is that he had been there, in the bar, when she said that she was tired of talking and heading for bed. So he was still disrespecting her stated preferences by asking her for coffee then – it would have been different if he had suggested meeting her for coffee somewhere the next day.
Everything about what he did is waving warning flags at me – maybe not of being a sexual predator necessarily, but definitely of being a PITA.
Mandi, generally speaking, one does not ask someone to coffee in one’s hotel room at 4am if all one wishes to do is enjoy coffee and conversation. If that were all he wanted, it is far more likely that he would have asked her to get coffee the next day sometime at a cafe. Context is EXTREMELY relevant to the entire conversation, and many people seem to want to willfully ignore the “alone, elevator, 4am, hotel room, foreign country” context of the incident.
Furthermore, according to Rebecca Watson’s statement, he prefaced this invitation with “Don’t take this the wrong way, but…” which illustrates that he knew perfectly well that he was imposing on her. This is similar to making statements like “I’m not racist, but…” or “No offense, but…” Rather than add that qualifier, why not just keep your comment, which you know is inappropriate, to yourself?
Even if he was completely innocent in his attentions, such behavior is still boorish and he showed himself to be an insensitive clod. There is nothing unreasonable about advising other people in the skeptic/atheist community on how not to be an insensitive clod.
I’ve been out for lunch and tigtog and Alex have made the points for me! Context is so important.
Another thing that gets me is the whole “he was just a poor socially inept nerd”. I’ve known my share of socially inept (male) nerds, and if they’re interested in my ideas, they just launch into a question based on what I’ve said, even if their eyes are also full of “Wow! Ideas and Vagina in one body!”. Usually as soon as possible, not after hanging around in the same space for six-eight hours.
“I find your ideas interesting” is a pretty sure-fire clue to me that you have no clue what my ideas are or why anyone would find them interesting, you know? In this case, that’s all too patently clear, given what those ideas were.
From what I read, she told an entire room full of people no, and he asked anyway.
De-lurking to make a comment to those who think this incident too minor to warrant all this fuss (and ignoring for the time being, as TigTog says, that it’s the reaction to Rebecca’s comments that has generated the shit-storm):
– if this is too minor -just a bit of social awkwardness – unkind/unreasonable to read anything of import into it, what circumstances would be needed before it could be raised?
Because it seems to me that if this had been a more serious incident – if the guy had turned ugly, or been more inappropriate in some way – a number of his current defenders would be saying “But most guys aren’t like that – they would back off”. And we-all on the “completely get where Rebecca’s coming from” side would be saying (among other things) “even if he had backed off, still inappopriate to raise it in this context”.
So basically – some of the responses suggest it’s never OK to say that guys should curb their impulses to hit on ladies wherever and whenever they like. If nothing bad happens other than an unwelcome and uncomfortable interaction – then nothing bad happened, move along, nothing to see. And if something bad happens following the knock-back, then that’s the only bad thing some people can see.
Of course, it’s not news that this message is poorly received – it’s harks back to that well-worn hit – “please don’t talk to women on public transport” (with backing singers from the I’mOnlyTryingToBeFriendly Band).
This is long and incoherent (a bonus double!) but I fee there’s a point here somewhere?
Only Rebecca and the man in the elevator know what tone or facial expressions were used to make this an innuendo (if it was intended to be such).
But the point of Rebecca bringing it up at all was that she found it disturbing in the context of what she’d been talking about – being objectified and hit on at these conferences. Which makes it interesting that I only see this point raised by people siding with her detractors – when surely it’s a primary reason why we should trust her interpretation over theirs – since after all, she was the one who was there.
I liked this particular comment from karenm77 one of the monster Pharyngula threads:
Note that the above is just why it’s creepy. That Elevator Guy thought it was his right to ignore her repeatedly stated boundaries is what makes it sexist.
I admit, at first I didn’t get it. He was a well-meaning, socially inept goose, I thought. Something I might do, on a particularly goosey day.
But then I remembered that time a Mormon missionary tried to evangelise me on the train. That trapped feeling. The dreadful knowledge that all I had was words to defend myself with. The complete objectification. And that was in a train stopping all stations, with an emergency button and extremely low chance of violence.
I think it’s easy for a lot of people to take the guy’s side, because that’s how narrative often works. Guy gets girl, etc. Think a lot of angst comes from identifying with the guy and refusing to contemplate the other position.
Just woke up – actually home sick today – so I’ll try to respond as coherently as I can.
You are absolutely 100% correct here, Alex. I don’t take issue with declaring the incident creepy. I don’t think I would have been creeped out in the same situation, only annoyed, but I don’t fault Rebecca for feeling uncomfortable. Nor do I fault any other woman who says she would feel the same way. Everyone has the right to feel how they feel.
The problem is that this whole incident has so far exceeded “advising other people in the skeptic/atheist community on how not to be an insensitive clod.” It’s turned into us against them. And, for the most part, being on one side as opposed to the other means that you have no good standing in the skeptical community anymore and should never open your mouth again (see Richard Dawkins, as an example of this).
I voiced the exact opposite of this point to someone in an epic comment thread on facebook. Someone asked why the incident was creepy (a legitimate question) and one woman in particular answered the question 25 different times with “It’s not creepy to be asked to fuck by a stranger at 4AM in an elevator?” So I wanted to know under what circumstances would make it not creepy. I got her to admit that it wasn’t the time or place that made it creepy to her, leading me to believe that she, like a lot of people in this argument, believe it wrong for any man to approach any woman. Though, of course, she would not say this. When she realized where I was going, she went back to her old standby of ” It’s not creepy to be asked to fuck by a stranger at 4AM in an elevator?” and then unfriended me. Then she called me pro-rape and racist in her status (don’t ask me where race came into it, no idea).
It’s not that I don’t think Rebecca should have been creeped out. Or that she shouldn’t have said what she did on the video she posted. It’s perfectly fine to say “Guys, don’t do that” because she kind of does have a point.
Where she went wrong was when decided that people who disagreed with her are contributing to anti-woman rhetoric. And *that* is what started the shit-storm that we’re currently involved in – a debate that doesn’t remotely resemble what it should if the issue really were the incident in the elevator.
Why? Why is this wrong? It’s one thing to continue to disagree with her on whether or not EG’s behavior is an example of sexism within the skeptic/atheist community, but it doesn’t make any sense to me to then turn around and say that she can no longer disagree with you…because you disagree with her?
The idea that such behavior is sexist – and an example of a larger problem – isn’t something that Watson decided only after other people starting talking about the incident. It was something she was talking about even before the incident occurred. It is something she mentioned in the video that McGraw was reacting to, and exactly why McGgraw posted a rebuttal To Watson.
You can certainly disagree with Watson when she says that such behavior is sexist, but it’s only logical that Watson would consider people who do so to be making it more difficult for women to speak up about sexism. Especially when they bring up strawwomen like demonizing male sexuality (without making a clear argument as to how labeling such behavior as sexist demonizes male sexuality).
Speaking of strawwomen, what the hell?
My reaction exactly, and also exactly why the OTT you-shut-your-manhating-mouth reaction to Watson’s very mild attempt to impart some clue to insensitive clods is what has made this incident a “poster-child” for misogyny in the skeptical movement.
When did propositioning a total stranger for anything become other than bad manners at the very least? If EG had hung around for hours listening but not talking to her and then cornered her in the lift to ask her for money, or to hand her a religious tract, and she had related that as an example of inappropriate behaviour towards her at a conference, it would have been totally uncontroversial that she had been imposed upon in a very insensitive, rude and disrespectful (i.e. creepy) manner. Why are so many so invested in representing this to be somehow less insensitive and creepy when he’s propositioning her for (an encounter that is generally considered a prelude to) sex?
As for Richard Dawkins, his contribution and the “Team Dawkins” reaction to it is the major part of what has made this blogstorm a poster-child for misogyny in the skeptical movement. It’s impossible for me to read his comments on Pharyngula as anything other than telling Watson to STFU already about something that doesn’t matter (to him), and by stirring the pot he’s encouraged others to tell Watson that she is wrong, deluded and misandrist to even mention that this man’s behaviour made her uncomfortable, and that (by extension) any request from skeptical women for skeptical men to lift their game wrt better manners regarding the blatant ogling and constant propositioning is equally wrong, deluded and misandrist.
We’re never going to agree, so this is my last comment.
My point is simply that had this ended with Rebecca’s original statements, all would be well. But it didn’t, and it turned into something that, in my opinion, it shouldn’t have.
Most of the arguing back and forth is irrelevant and off topic. I honestly don’t understand how people can’t see that, but I guess people get so invested in things that nothing else is visible.
I understand why a lot of people wish that it had ended there. I too wish that this had ended with people simply being able to accept Rebecca’s statements as a teachable moment for some of the more insensitive skeptical men and then moving on.
Having had a quick read of your blog, I know that I’ve been around the skeptical community on and offline for a whole lot longer than you. This is not meant to reflect badly on you in any way, just to highlight that I’ve seen all this before and I suspect that you have not.
This is not the first time that sexism in the movement has caused a huge sturm and drang, and there’s always a very loud subset telling women that whatever-just-happened is really not that important, and they are always the ones making the most emotional and vituperative posts about how bitches just make shit up to complain about. And then it blows over, for a while, and the movement learns nothing until the next time a woman makes a mild complaint and she, and all those who support her, are again told that she/they should just shut her deluded time-wasting mouth(s).
I’m very strongly of the opinion that the atheist/skeptical movement should be a whole lot better than that. Reminding everybody that there is this repeated pattern (sidelining women’s concerns regarding sexism in the movement) could not be more relevant and on topic to Rebecca’s overall point at the conference (why the movement fails to attract larger numbers of women) .
Okay, that looks like “Feminists are looking for things to get angry about”, and
“If you would relax about these things, your life would be easier”
If the declaration was the start of the storm, that’s the tone argument. It’s also “I wouldn’t be upset if it happened to me”
That’s “You should” and “Shut up”
There’s “You want to stop all men from getting laid” and “One women could not refute my argument, therefore all women are wrong about everything”, or “Your sides weakest speaker’s weakest argument must beat my side’s strongest speaker’s strongest argument”
Would you please insist you are just an old fashioned gentleman? I’m so close
I left out
which looks like “He said, she said, and we know those untrustworthy women lie, because women are untrustworthy liars”
Mandi, I think you look like a forum troll, and a cheerleader for team rapist.
Matt, Mandi is not a forum troll, she is someone whose blog I commented on to point them to this post, so she’s virtually here by invitation. I appreciate that she has been willing to come here and put forward her point of view even though we disagree, since she must have known that she was likely to be somewhat piled-upon, and she came anyway.
In fact, I want more people with whom I disagree to come and challenge me/us in this space. Accusing them all of being trolls won’t do that.
Yeah, I’ll think more before typing anything else.
Anyway, I can’t believe that we’ve got to this point in the discussion and nobody’s linked to this yet, so ta-da:
That bit of classic cartoonery responds neatly to the first point Mandi made in which she suggested the elevator incident had become “the poster child for misogyny in the skeptical movement”, because it shows how it isn’t that incident that has become the “poster child” at all, it is the overblown, hateful, ugly and utterly disproportionate response from the anti-women men on the various internet discussions that followed, precisely in line with panels 11 onward of Gabby’s strip. Excuse me stating the obvious, but if misogyny wasn’t a problem in those communities, everyone would have simply gone “hmm, yup” and moved on.
There’s a particular subset of atheist men who came to atheism from a highly religious background, and part of their attraction to atheism was the release from religious notions of sexual guilt, and they somehow assumed that this would lead to meeting lots of equally guilt-free atheist women who would be totally into Hot! Monkey! Sex! at the Drop! of a Hat!, because Guilt! Free! Yay!…
For some of these men, the atheist women who don’t make themselves indiscriminately available for HMSATDOAH (i.e. nearly all of them) are in breach of some imaginary atheist contract, and they resent it as an example of women not being rational enough i.e. being all “hung up” on sex instead of having the properly rational attitude that having sex with any man who expresses desire for them is no big deal so they should just get on with it.
They don’t seem to realise that for most people weighing up whether they want to engage in sexual behaviour any time soon, Guilt! Free! is only one leg of what is at the very least a tripod of Feeling! Appreciated! Safe! and Horny! Right! Now! and You! Look! Like! Awesome! Sweaty! Fun!…
Anyway, it’s the subset who say that women are not being rational for taking a risk-potential-assessment into account when being importuned by a stranger who also seem to take offence that women also make a fun-potential-assessment, as if it’s somehow not fair that we might have a rational expectation of actually enjoying having sex.
That’s very interesting, TT. I had never thought of that, having been brought up Atheist 😉 and not knowing many young religious people. I’d add to that that another element in the Atheist movement consists of the I’m-more-intelligent-than-you types who, unfortunately, is attracted to this movement, I think. Sadly, the UK seems to generate a great many of these, but Scott Adams springs to mind (“if you disagree, it means you’re too stupid to understand what I’m saying”.) I think these men are just resistant to new ideas, full stop, once they’ve committed themselves to atheism it means they are Totes Rational and nothing they will ever do or say again can possibly be infected with stupidity, or tainted with social myth.
Yes! This, too.
OK, my intended-as-final post on the Rebeccapocalypse meltdown in the skeptosphere. We can hope.
Maybe this guy just needs a “special snowflake” t-shirt so all women can clearly identify that whatever they say, like “don’t bail me up in the elevator at 4am
askingexpecting sex because I will see you as a threat”, doesn’t apply to him because when he does it it isn’t creepy or threatening because it’s, you know, him. And all women should obviously know that.
I’m also astonished at the number of Team-Meltdowners who don’t seem to see it as in any way important that even if we were all equipped for only the worst-case-scenario of sexual assault – say that perfect rapist detectors existed and this guy’s “Not A Rapist” sign was flashing reassuringly throughout the interaction (and so was Rebecca’s) – that what he did could still have justifiably “creeped her out” because he showed a total lack of consideration for her clearly expressed wishes, which is a creepy thing to do.
It’s creepy because it told her that her stated preferences about personal interactions at conferences were far less important to him than his preference for interacting in one of the ways to which she’d specifically objected. IGNORING WHAT A PERSON HAS CLEARLY AND DIRECTLY COMMUNICATED IS A CREEPY THING TO DO. It remains a creepy thing to do even if he didn’t actually have sexual intentions towards her, let alone any nonconsensual sexual intentions.
If a person deliberately breaches another person’s clearly stated boundaries, that is disrespectful. No doubt I could come up with all sorts of hypothetical situations where in certain urgent circumstances it might nonetheless be considered necessary or at least justifiable to ignore a person’s clearly stated preferences/boundaries, but doing so still remains disrepectful of their wishes, and BEING DISRESPECTED CREEPS PEOPLE OUT.
If men claim to respect women’s right to equal participation in society, then when
womena woman clearly states thoseher boundaries, then thoseher boundaries need to be respected. Again: failing to respect people’s clearly stated boundaries is a creepy way to behave.
She was not only within her rights but also on topic for the conference to use him as an anonymous example of behaving in a creepy way, given that her role at that particular conference was partly to discuss how to make women feel more welcome at such conferences; she was also exactly on-topic to suggest to other men in the skeptical movement that one way to be more welcoming would be for guys to “not do that”.
But then Tigtog they would have to 1. listen and 2. be considerate and 3. put someone else’s wishes first. That is a big ask of some guys. Not all guys by any means, but given the backlash it seems that there are still quite a few out there who see nothing wrong with this behaviour.