Monday, July 11, 2011

Yet Another Elevatorgate Post from a Pissed-off Atheist

I want to ask Rebecca Watson to please reread the link she posted as “Feminism 101” in her blog post titled “On Naming Names at the CFI Student Leadership Conference.” Then to revisit her tale of the “Elevatorgate” incident. By that definition, and by her description of the event, that man did not objectify her. He did the opposite. He treated her as a complex person, one capable of interesting conversation and coffee drinking, and one that had the option of declining his polite offer. He did not turn her into an object.
I fail to see how telling a woman you find her interesting and you'd like to have coffee with her is "sexualizing" her. Yes, even at 4am in an elevator when 10 minutes ago she said she was tired, dammit! I'm sure the internet will tell me what an anti-woman gender traitor I am.
From my point of view, I identify as feminist, by the old-fashioned definition of "the radical belief that women are human beings." There is nothing wrong with one human being propositioning another. The Elevator Guy can't know you're a paranoid until he winds up as fodder for your vlog. Maybe I shouldn't pass judgment on an incident I didn't witness, but I'm treating this as a hypothetical: What if you're at a conference in Dublin, it's 4 in the morning, a guy gets in the elevator with you and says this? Has he done something, ANYTHING, wrong? The answer is no. Absolutely not. Dawkins was right to compare it to chewing gum. He didn't trivialize it; it was trivial to start with. That's what Watson clearly doesn't “get.”
Many reactions I'm seeing online are dealing with the infighting aspect of this. There are all kinds of debates raging, but most skeptics are up for a good debate, right? Except those that aren't. When Dawkins wrote his (I'll admit it was snotty) response to PZ Meyers' sycophantic reaction to "Elevatorgate," Watson’s response to him was juvenile and irrational. "I will no longer recommend his books to others, buy them as presents, or buy them for my own library. I will not attend his lectures or recommend that others do the same. There are so many great scientists and thinkers out there that I don’t think my reading list will suffer." So those books that you were recommending for years are suddenly invalid because the author has justifiably called you out on your irrational fear of men? Note: Your reaction was not to invite Dawkins to a discussion, but to dismiss him as a "wealthy heterosexual white man." Because of those attributes, his opinion on the matter doesn't count? Well, I'm a woman. I've been importuned in a similar manner, in Dublin AND in London, at 2, if not 4, in the morning. And when I politely refused these polite offers, I was able to return to my room without incident. I didn't go online and tell men they should never do that to women. Because that would be ridiculous.
One thing coming out of all this, and I hope it continues, is that many atheists are questioning Watson’s place in the movement. I hope she has to justify her existence at these events and in this community, because a lot of careful readers out there have noted that she seems to bring very little to the table on the SGU podcast and in her blog.
I am not anti-woman. I am anti-Rebecca Watson. I am a woman, and I never gave Rebecca Watson permission to speak for me. When she says that, as someone who can't see the incident she described as objectification, I "don't get it," well, that really raises my hackles. I'm not stupider than you because I disagree. I know what it is to be objectified, and that's not it. You don't get to tell me how I'm supposed to feel about it. You don't have that privilege. You don't get to rewrite the rules of social interaction to suit your paranoia. You don't have that privilege. Richard Dawkins never said "be a good girl and keep quiet." You made that up. Your paraphrase of his comments adds things that weren't there. I paraphrase what he said as "NOTHING BAD HAPPENED TO YOU IN THAT ELEVATOR." And I agree with him completely. I'm sorry whatever mental illness you're clearly suffering from tells you otherwise. Good luck getting help, but you won't, because it's all of us who "don't get it" that have to change, right?

PS: The upshot of all this stupidity is it helped me find lots of cool bloggers. Here are some fun links on the subject, mostly from my side ("Team Elevator Guy")
  • The Justicar, who is pretty hilarious (imho)
  • Miranda Celeste, who I'm now following
  • Stef McGraw, who RW treated unprofessionally (imho)
  • ERV, awesome science nerd
  • Amy Alkon, great title on this post
  • and I'll include one more Team Rebecca post, The Blag Hag, who I have lost a lot of respect for in all this (note that I'm not urging a boycott of everything she's ever written. That would be childish.)


  1. Thank you for presenting this in a well thought out and rational manner. Many seem to willfully ignore the Stef Mcgraw portion as it does not fit the narrative presented by the Rebecca Team. I appreciate your brand of feminism and applaud your strength to speak out. Some will call you a gender traitor but it is clear that you on a much greater team, that of humanity.

  2. What he did wasn't morally wrong, just insensitive, which was pretty much her point. She had said she wanted to go to bed, so she had expressed her plans for the rest of the night/morning.

    What she said wasn't wrong, either. She expressed her feelings about it, but instead of telling a few galpals about it, she put it out on the interwebs for all the world to see. There's a huge diversity of viewpoint and experience amongst atheists. Personally, I've known a woman who left a bar with a "nice" guy and got raped then stabbed 23 times and left for dead in an alley. I've also left bars with guys who wound up being my boyfriend. And I've also been hit on by married guys who I thought I'd just had a friendship with. (That ends the friendship for me). I'd be offended by being invited back to a guy's room too. (In my experience that would be a ruse, not a real invitation for *just* coffee)

    The diverse viewpoints expressed just prove that atheism attracts diverse people who make up their own minds about things. We don't have to agree on anything. The only thing we agree about is not agreeing with theists.

  3. @Captain Joe: I'll admit that Team Humanity lets me down sometimes, but I still want to keep playing for them. Let's hope I don't get traded!
    @LadyAtheist: I agree with what you're saying here, especially that RW chose the wrong forum for her kvetching, & that this is a complex issue.

  4. One of my newfound Twitter followers did a summary post, and in it he linked to this one, which seems to locate the source of the shitstorm. It's also more fair & balanced than mine, and definitely more informed:

  5. another new find from that post by Tim Skellett (@Gurdur); Paula Kirby on the complex issue of getting women involved in the atheist movement (you know, the topic Rebecca Watson wants to address, but lacks the proper communication skills to adequately deal with). It's a little long, but I think she has a really important point to make that, like most important ideas here, are getting lost in the hoopla.