Guys, Don’t Do That

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.

Categories: ethics & philosophy, gender & feminism, skepticism

Tags: , , , , , ,

8 replies

  1. In that very thread of hers you linked to, there’s a guy who just had to take time out of his day to mansplain about how she should totally apologise to Dawkins for boycotting him (ie for not buying his books any more).

  2. Just when I think I can no longer be amazed by the levels of misogyny among people who should know better … I mean, did I *seriously* just read an argument in Watson’s post’s comments where someone was trying to say that assuming “cunt” is a misogynist insult is “redefining misogyny”?

  3. @QoT, some of these arseclowns are unintentionally hilarious while being unbearably obtuse. On another monster Pharyngula thread about sexism within atheism which has finally run out of steam, I just left this comment because my pedantry would not allow me not to, we have one of the frequent style-over-substance tone-troll derailers displaying a beauty:

    I’m jumping in after having read the first 800 comments, so if somebody else has already brought this up I apologise for chopping your liver, but regarding just one of Michael Hawkins’ preposterosities:

    The ideas about rhetoric I am expressing pre-date me by a few thousand years. I’m going to go with the Cicero on this one and say it is more effective to speak in a way which gives one an audience than to speak one’s mind to an empty theater.

    Using this quote as if Cicero thus obviously advocated politely rational rhetoric is so hilariously ignorant about how Cicero actually used rhetoric in practice to garner an audience and persuade them to his will! Nobody who was actually familiar with Cicero’s most famous successes as an orator could possibly imagine that he was recommending civil argumentation.
    The trial which first brought Cicero fame in 70BCE succeeded because of his monumentally thorough character assassination of the defendant. History’s acceptance that Gaius Verres was an unscrupulously vile and brutally corrupt scoundrel rests almost entirely on Cicero’s rhetoric in this case. His second most famous court oration, defending Milo against a charge of murder (52BCE), is stuffed with invective against the victim which paints Clodius as so malevolently villainous a political enemy that Milo was justified in having him killed in self-defence (Milo was convicted in the end, but Clodius’ reputation was forever blackened).
    The political orations of Cicero’s which were the most famous and popular with the Roman public during his own lifeime were his denunciation of the conspiracy of Catiline (63BCE) and his Philippics, a series of 14 separate vituperations against the grandiose ambitions of Mark Antony (44BCE). Cicero was the polar opposite of polite or moderate in his insults against either man during these orations, but again because both Catiline and Antony ended up engaging in civil war against the Roman Senate (and both lost), history has largely accepted Cicero’s judgement of both men.
    Are you seeing a pattern yet? In the cases where Cicero won the most public recognition for the power of his oratory, he persuaded even the historians over the centuries by the energy with which he brutally denounced the opposition’s character and arguments. In all four cases, too, he was not trying to make the supporters of the subjects of those speeches (Verres, Clodius, Catiline, Antony) agree with him – he was working to persuade the larger audience that those people needed to be stopped, and at that he thoroughly succeeded.

  4. I mean, did I *seriously* just read…
    Later on, there was a response to that screed that read:
    Had to add: without misogyny the implied or secondary meaning of the letters c-u-n-t would be ‘a delightful place to visit’ not ‘a woman I loathe.’
    Still male-centric (in the het sense), but a good point nonetheless. Without the idea that women are lesser, why would being called a cunt work as an insult in the first place? People who call Rebecca a cunt are demonstrating that they’re perfectly happy to have misogyny in the world, so long as they can use it to hurt her. And more generally, that they’re ok with a widespread meme painting women as lesser, because it gives them extra power to hurt women they’re angry with. Why then should she or you or I or anyone else give them the benefit of the doubt when it comes to being a misogynist?

  5. You can officially count me as yet another atheist woman who is not going to ever get involved with the atheist/skeptical community. Flying Spaghetti Monster on a pogo stick! I mean, I’d like to support Watson and the other women who are braving it out, but it looks like a lost cause from here.

  6. I can’t even – I can’t. The thought of what this woman is going through just for giving a piece of advice to the movement and standing up for herself is chilling and horrible.

  7. I’ve been thinking about how the behaviour of the I-gotta-be-able-to-ask-any-woman-any-time-for-sex-or-it’s-TEOTWAWKI crowd mirrors that of spammers – they’re just spamming in meatspace, and just like email/blog spammers they have no excuse for not knowing full well that most people do not want their unsolicited offers and resent the waste of their time and energy dealing with them.
    And then they wonder why people treat them like the annoying imposition they are.
    Spammers are creepy because we walk through a world full of opportunities for legitimate advertising in spaces where it is expected and tolerated as socially appropriate, yet the spammers insist on intruding into our inboxes and blog discussions thus interfering with efficient communication for otherwise-designated purposes, just because they feel that their message needs to get through .
    Unsolicited propositions in meatspace are equally creepy; because they know the etiquette regarding social spaces within which certain impositions are expected and tolerated, yet they choose to flout those conventions by intruding on others outside those social spaces, just because they feel that their message needs to get through no matter what.
    For example: a panhandler who approaches one in the street outside a hotel is working within expected/tolerated social conventions for begging, but a panhandler who didn’t approach one while outside the hotel and who then followed one into the hotel elevator and waited until the doors closed to beg for a handout? THAT’S CREEPY (and nobody would complain when somebody told them not to make the hotel guests uncomfortable by doing that).

  8. But somehow, it’s expected to be different in this context.

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