Tips for Elevator Use

A surprising number of people, who I choose to believe are genuine, are asking on blogposts relating to Elevatorgate what to do if they (male) are waiting for an elevator with a lone female person. So I have devised some hints to help them.

1. If you are waiting for an elevator with a woman, just wait for the elevator. You don’t need to engage her in conversation. If, however, you have say forgotten your watch and don’t have another method of finding out the time handy e.g. a mobile phone, politely ask the time and thank her. Then resume waiting for the elevator.

2. When the elevator arrives you may want to let her get on first. YMMV. You may be afraid that she will rebuff you for being ‘gentlemanly’. In this instance she is Schroedinger’s nastyfem. You have no way of knowing if she will do this or not until she does/does not. You may choose not to let her go first. As long as you don’t knock her over in your attempts to enter the elevator she probably won’t care.

3. Should you get onto the elevator when it is just her? Yes. If you are standing near the buttons you might even ask her which floor. If she is standing near the buttons you might even request that she push the button for your floor.

4. Now, you are on the elevator together. Just the two of you. So, you stand there and watch the numbers together. The elevator stops, and one or both of you gets out, someone else gets in, or it’s one of those annoying stops where nobody is there and no one has hit the button for that floor. You may share a ‘huh, elevators what you going to do’ glance with each other. You may not. If you try this and she doesn’t respond, don’t be concerned. Maybe she’s not in the mood, maybe she’s thinking about the meeting she has to go to. Maybe she’s wondering if she should try the new sandwich place for lunch. Maybe she is tired and looking forward to getting some sleep. Maybe she doesn’t want to talk to strangers in the elevator. Maybe it has nothing to do with you at all.

5. The elevator stops. It’s your floor. As you leave you might wish her a good day, a good evening, or you may say nothing. She may be relieved that you have gotten off the elevator. She may not notice. She may regret that she didn’t start up a conversation with that nice looking man. She may be relieved that she wasn’t hit on, or worse. Whatever she feels, rest assured that you did everything you could to help her feel at ease. You may regret that you didn’t start a conversation with her. Life is full of little regrets like that. If you catch the lift together all the time, it might be worth trying to strike up a conversation one day. But if you are just two random strangers there is probably a better than equal chance you will just stress her out. You are a nice person, you don’t want to stress people. So don’t. Just accept that many women find it stressful being in a confined space with an unknown male. It’s not fair to you. But she doesn’t know you. She has no way of knowing how you will react until you do/don’t do it. But she knows that if you were to do something to her, she would be blamed for being there in the first place and putting herself in that situation.

We aren’t expecting you to wait 20 minutes for an elevator that has no women in it. All that we ask is that you don’t treat elevators as a great place to pick up women, especially women who have just spent the past day telling you why you shouldn’t approach women like that. Just respect their personal space.

Now I have also seen it mentioned that Elevator Dude was a shy guy not wanting to be shot down in front of heaps of people at the bar. I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he by chance was catching the elevator at the same time, not that he waited for her to leave the function – because waiting is definitely going well into creepy territory. So he’s a shy dude who just happens to be in the elevator at the same time. So maybe he goes against my advice and says something to her. He could have said “Saw your presentation today, it was really thought provoking’. She might have said ‘thanks’. Then silence. Okay shy Elevator Dude, this is the signal that she is not interested, too tired, not getting into this now. You’ve had your go, she’s politely responded. Game over. This is where you respect her boundaries and leave it. The gamble didn’t pay off. Suck it up and go to bed, alone.

Categories: Culture, language, Life, relationships, skepticism

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12 replies

  1. So assume that females are sexist right? Because you are accepting possibility over probability as a means for discriminating.
    [I’ve let this one through so that commenters can respond ~ M]

    • So assume that females are sexist right? Because you are accepting possibility over probability as a means for discriminating.

      Firstly, since the result of this alleged discrimination would be at worst a judgment of a man who decided that his need to speak was paramount that “this meatspace spam-artist who is pestering me is rude & inconsiderate, how unpleasant” , compared to the judgement made of men who leave women alone in elevators which would be “neutral evaluation: not enough data”, the possible damage done to any man by this hypothetical discrimination would be minimal.
      Secondly, I modify my behaviour according to minimise my risks where the possibility of harm is much lower than the probability of no-harm every day, all the time: because the consequences of the low-possibility harmful scenario would be so disproportionate in comparison to the benefits of the high-probability harmless scenario.
      Everyone I know does the same, because we don’t happen to be entirely indestructible, nor impervious against theft, swindles and what insurance policies tend to refer to as acts-of-god; and it constitutes a large part of why part of how we socialise children is making them hold our hands when we cross the road, training them to not accept sweets from strangers, teaching them about ‘bad touch’ etc. I bet that Free Human Being does all these normal risk minimisation behaviours as well – because the consequences of being hit by a car or having one’s child kidnapped or molested are so appallingly horrible compared to the teeny-weeny benefits of not-looking-before-crossing, or the child just getting a nice lolly, or even just having one’s child trust everybody. Having total trust in other human beings to be non-harmful is not a good survival strategy.
      So: Free Human Being and hir fellow travellers is actually asking that women make an exception to normal human behaviour just because otherwise a man might have his feelings hurt. Who’s being sexist here again?

  2. She’s not here for your entertainment, you don’t really want to mess with her tonight.

  3. Mindy
    No sure I would have followed your advice.

    If I was waiting for a lift and standing near someone whose lecture i had just attended and i had enjoyed the lecture or thought it interesting/well presented i would make a comment to that effect. If i did not, then following my mothers advice that if i had nothing nice to say then say nothing, i would not say anything.


    • What I wonder, given a few anecdotes I’ve read now about Richard Dawkins’ own nervousness of approaches from strangers at conventions, is how he would really, truly react if a larger, stronger person got on a lift with him at 4am with nobody else around. Especially if that person had been hovering around the fringes of the panels and groups all day with plenty of opportunities to interact with him while other people were around, but who had hung back instead, and not spoken to him before that at all.
      Would Richard Dawkins have accepted an invitation for coffee in that larger and stronger person’s room at 4am? When he’d just announced to the group at the bar that he was tired and wanted to go to bed? And had perhaps related a few anecdotes earlier about behaviour from strangers at conventions that he finds inappropriate and unwelcome?
      Might Richard Dawkins have felt that the invitation was rather odd and inappropriate, blatantly inconsiderate and thus maybe just a bit “creepy”? And been grateful as hell that his polite rejection didn’t turn into a HULKSMASH fanstalker response? Given that he gets creepy fanstalker emails ALL THE TIME from people who talk about seeing him at conventions, and also gets DIE IN HELL, ATHEIST! emails all the time from people who could have decided to come to a convention to confront him, and has no way of knowing whether the larger and stronger person is one of the authors?
      If it had been Richard Dawkins saying that being approached by larger, stronger strangers at 4am with inappropriate invitations made him uncomfortable, and told convention-goers to be a bit more considerate and to “please don’t do that”, there’d be a few macho jerks mocking him for being a wimp, but NOBODY would be saying that he was wrong to feel uncomfortable in the first place, because everybody groks, given the rate of male on male violence, that it’s both natural and prudent for a man to run a risk-assessment and kick up his vigilance a few notches when in proximity to strangers who are larger and stronger.
      But apparently when women do exactly the same thing, that’s suddenly sexist.

  4. @bryan
    I obviously wasn’t in the elevator, nor am I Rebecca, but I think that a nice comment about her presentation wouldn’t have been met with the same reaction. But what Elevator dude did was above and beyond a nice comment about her presentation, it deliberately ignored everything that she had said.
    What the tongue in cheek advice was meant to do was get across to people that you don’t have to flatten yourself against the wall or anything, just be aware that some women will feel uncomfortable and do your best not to make them feel worse. You can’t do anything about them feeling uncomfortable just because you happen to be a guy, or any other reason they might have for feeling uncomfortable. Nor should you. But you can act so that you don’t make them feel really threatened.

  5. Great comment from the latest thread about sexism in skeptic circles at Pharyngula:

    Posted by: Bernard Bumner | July 21, 2011 6:40 AM
    The message that many people just don’t want to accept is: You do not have the right to approach anyone to make an offer of anything.
    If you choose to make an unsolicited offer, then accept the consequences. If you make someone uncomfortable because of your unwanted, unasked-for actions, no matter how seemingly reasonable they are in your own mind, then it is your fault. Every time.
    It doesn’t even matter whether the offer is for coffee or coffee.
    When you approach a stranger, you have no idea of the baggage they are carrying, no idea of their history, no idea of what they want, what they are are thinking and perceiving, no idea of what makes them uncomfortable.
    You have no right to expect them to entertain your small-talk, your complements, or your clumsy propositions. They do not need to temper their response, to treat the situation with a proportionality that you impose and which satisfies you. They don’t need to try to understand your motivations before judging you, or make excuses for your behaviour.
    They don’t need to do anything to ease your conscience, because they didn’t ask to be put in that situation.

    (The PZ-reccomended post by Jennifer Ouellette is well worth a gander)

  6. They don’t need to do anything to ease your conscience, because they didn’t ask to be put in that situation.
    That’s waht I don’t get about the “Oh women have it so easy, men have to walk up and do the asking” chestnut. In which other context does anyone find it hard to realise that the opportunity to prepare for the conversation ahead of time, and choose its timing and circumstances, isn’t way easier than being put on the spot about it?

  7. Good point, SunlessNick. Of course women have it sooo easy with no ability to prepare or predict when they’re going to be the focus of an unwanted come-on ..

  8. Another great Pharyngula comment:

    Posted by: Forbidden Snowflake
    Early in the thread, MRA says:
    A man’s role is to approach women. A lot. And get rejected a lot.
    and another MRA says:
    Why do men sometimes behave this way?
    There are simple answers.
    1.Because they are lonely and don’t know what else to do.
    2.Because they face rejection in 90% of cases, growing more angry and bitter over time.
    3.And most importantly, and im really sorry to break the news to the ladies out there, because it works.

    and then a lightbulb went on in my head.
    I know where I’ve seen this attitude before.
    I know what these guys are.
    They are spammers. Obnoxious meatspace mass-botherers of humanity and pushers of fake /!@9?@, occasionally causing real letters to be removed by filtering algorithms and forcing the decent people to spell /!@9?@ in silly ways.
    I swear, this analogy just expands itself.

    I like this analogy a lot. Bothering strangers who are just minding their own business is rude, taking up time and space and energy that they’d rather be spending do other things. Romantic/sexual invitations are not magically exempt from the general social dictums against bothering strangers just because sex-is-so-special: they’re just yet another example of being rude.
    Stop spamming people, spammers.

  9. @Freehumanbeing
    I’ve just fished you out of the spamminator because I wanted to respond to your comment.
    1. Women have been attacked in elevators before, or similarly confined spaces. Being trapped in a confined space with an unknown man can be frightening. This is not the fault of the man and no one is suggesting that simply being there is the problem.
    2. No one is saying you can’t still use the elevator, we are just asking for a little courtesy i.e. if it is clear that she wants to be left alone, leave her the fuck alone. It really isn’t difficult.

  10. Because you are accepting possibility over probability as a means for discriminating.

    What discrimination are we talking about here? Discrimination against men who reject hitting on a woman in a public or semi-public location, in order to corner her in an isolated location with just the two of them? Isolation with a stranger who’s trying to hit you up for something is pressuring – there’s no other context in which we don’t easily recognise this. Rebecca Watson simply pointed this out – she didn’t presume the worst of Elevator Guy, or even presume that he meant to be creepy and pressuring – she just pointed out how the way he’d acted had affected her. If that’s discrimination, then it’s still based on choosing actuality – ie what he actually did, the pressure he actually chose to exert – not possibility, nor speculation as to the motive behind that choice.
    Or are you talking about Mindy’s post rather than Rebecca’s podcast? Mindy was responding to guys asking how they can use an elevator with a lone woman without being creepy. She chose to take the question at face value and respond in kind.* If her post comes across as sarcastic, it’s only because – again – the advice she offers is generally grasped without difficulty in any context other than this one. Where’s the discrimination in that?

    So: Free Human Being and hir fellow travellers is actually asking that women make an exception to normal human behaviour just because otherwise a man might have his feelings hurt.

    To reiterate, Rebecca did not presume the worse of Elevator Guy – she simply failed to presume the best, and it’s this for which she’s being denounced. But let’s not forget, had the worst been true of Elevator Guy, and Rebecca not presumed it, then the same voices of reason that denounce her now for not presuming the best of him would be doing so for not presuming the worst, and blaming her for any hurt that she’d suffered.

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