There was an article today titled Is It Cold in Here? By Jennifer Ouellette on the Scientific American website. She wrote about working at CERN and the chilly social climate she encountered there as a woman in a man’s world. She then discusses a situation that has exploded all over the atheist/skeptic blogosphere regarding a man’s proposition to a woman at 4 AM.
I began to write a post about this situation a few weeks ago when all the hoopla started but got caught up in other things.
But with today’s article, the mention of it on P.Z.Myers blog Pharyngula and the same dim-witted responses pouring in as last time, I’m going to say my piece on this topic after all.
The Original Post I Started
There’s been a big uproar among the atheists regarding a fairly minor incident at one of their conferences. A bunch of the posts appear at the bottom of this one if you wish to dig deeper into specifics.
A woman speaker who had been giving talks about feminism, female objectification and getting more women to join the movement was approached and mildly propositioned. Sounds rather innocuous, and it would be if that was all that occurred.
The problem was the circumstances.
She had been talking on these subjects for several days. She keeps a blog on that and related subjects. She is well known for her opinion on these matters.
As the conference was going on a group had gathered in the venue’s bar. It was getting late and she announced that she was tired and was going to get some sleep.
She proceeded to the hotel elevator and got in. She was followed in there by a man she didn’t know but who had apparently been in the bar with her group when she was in there. Either he hadn’t introduced himself at that time, or previously, or had not participated in the conversation at all so that any introduction went unnoticed.
While in the elevator he proceeded to ask her to come to his room for coffee because he found her viewpoint interesting and wanted to continue the conversation.
What’s wrong with that scenario?
If you don’t know here’s a list.
- It’s 4AM and you suggest coffee?
- She said she was tired and was going to bed indicating that the conversation portion of the night was over. That he wanted to continue it indicates either some kind of hearing problem or completely ignoring her explicitly stated wishes.
- She was in a foreign country, in a strange hotel, in an elevator alone. She was in unfamiliar surroundings. She had no backup and everyone she had been with assumed she would go to her room so no one was going to come looking for her until the next day at the earliest.
- She had just spent several days outlining how offensive it was to be objectified. Is coffee in a hotel room in the middle of the night a euphemism?
- She did not know this man who followed her. Even if he had been an acquaintance it would have been fairly insensitive and pushy. Can you say date rape?
- He did not suggest some alternative time or place such as breakfast or during the next day’s break or even something vague like tomorrow. It had to be now and it had to be there. On his terms. That’s rather presumptuous and yes, privileged.
- They had been in a bar and depending upon the number of drinks imbibed she might not have been able to fully consent to anything, coffee or otherwise. And since he was also in the bar he was aware of this. This is really taking advantage of a situation.
Any one of these might be sluffed off but combined they place the woman in a situation of extreme vulnerability. Some men don’t understand what it is like to feel that. Some men think it is OK to behave this way because they themselves are not predators and rapists. Good. I’m glad they’re not. Unfortunately other men are. Unless those who are wear a sign around their necks stating that fact it’s not possible to tell the difference.
Here’s a list of some of the high points found in the comments on those posts. I’ll just grab a bunch out of the various comments to illustrate a few points.
- …he made a totally appropriate request. He wanted to get to know her. [Ignoring what she stated she wanted.]
- …she was out at 4AM. What does she expect? [Blame the victim. Enforce good girl/slut stereotypes. ]
- …she could have just ignored him. [In a confined space? It’s hard enough to ignore in a public space. Even Dawkins would have a hard time ignoring someone doing something obnoxious in an elevator.]
- …it was just awkward or maybe rude but certainly not sexist. [His personal issues should be used to excuse behavior. Let’s minimalize.]
- …he was just shy so had to wait until he could get her alone. [His problem becomes her problem to which she must accommodate.]
- …she over reacted by getting upset or even bothered.[Her feelings/reaction is irrelevant. Dismissive]
- …because she writes about women’s issues she hates men. [basic non sequitur]
- …because she’s a feminist nothing a man could do would please her.[Overgeneralization, ad hominem, non sequitur…]
- …she only complained to get attention. [The issue requires attention but is dismissed. Ad hominem speculation on her motivation/character traits]
- …she abuses the feminist label to get out of arguments [Misdirection. Ad hominem. Everything she says can then be dismissed because it’s said under the banner of “feminism” which she is allegedly misusing. ]
- …if she didn’t write these kinds of things we wouldn’t have to get angry. [Blame shifting. See Skepchick’s post called Why I Deserved to be Called an Offensive Bitch for more on this type of situation.]
Not hard to note all the fallacies, logical and otherwise, distorted thinking and cognitive dissonance that are woven into those. [I’ve put in brackets some of those to make it quite easy to note. There’s more that could be listed.] They’re all forms of derailing.
Here’s a whole bunch of posts on the elevator incident starting with her original statement, which was brief and only requested that men not do that kind of thing.
Rebecca Watson has a new video contains the video in question. Her point about the incident takes place at 4:31 in the video and lasts for approximately 72 seconds. She is not rude, belittling or abusive, just straightforward. “Don’t do that.” and then she gives some very sound reasons why not.
The comments came fast and furious, many from men who seemed to feel abused because someone asked them to mind their behavior a little bit.
Always name names! from Pharyngula blog P.Z.Myers takes Rebecca’s point to heart.
Richard Dawkins jumps into the comments there and makes a big fool out of himself, several times over. Rebecca responds with another post.
The Privilege Delusion which is a take off on Dawkins book title The God Delusion. The original poster responds to Dawkins dismissals.
Many more posts followed including
Dear Richard Dawkins… which includes a number of letters to the clueless skeptic regarding his foggy comments
And Gawker picked up the story online as well
As did The New Statesman Sharing a lift with Richard Dawkins and The Atlantic Wire Richard Dawkins Gets into a Comments War with Feminists.
Each of these has dozens of links to other posts with opinions. The vast majority support not only Rebecca’s viewpoint but her right to hold a viewpoint of her own. Many of the commenters support neither and make outlandish accusations about the original post contents and motivations of Rebecca. Many of the latter complainants are also anonymous.
Here’s an interesting aside.
Back to the Present Post
…that’s where I ended. But there seems to be more to come. The chilly climate article is an example. It needs to continue to be brought up until there’s no more need for it to continue to be brought up. That’s pretty simple.
When I read those types of abusive comments the female posters received I often wonder what is expected of women by those who cannot hear their voices or acknowledge their arguments. I note the men who agreed with the women were rarely or ever attacked in the same way, or at all – that’s telling. The stamina that is required to address these kinds of comments leaves one unbelievably tired. And it’s often wasted energy.
Trying to answer these types of complaints often only works the complainant up into a further froth. Interestingly when left without response the froth seems to increase anyways, as do the comments, until the real agenda shows up.
It strikes me that the only response that would satisfy these misogynist trolls is silence. The perfect woman would be a silent one. It seems that the entire purpose of that kind of commentary is to stifle an opinion that is disagreeable and uncomfortable. Often by any means possible. The ad hominem is especially popular for that purpose. That is bringing up completely unrelated personal, and often fictitious, statements in an abusive manner in order to try to make someone retract their opinion, agree with the misogynist, appear to be contradicted, refrain from future opinions or just be silent.
But as we all know silence is often equated with consent.
Non-consent needs to be loud and clear.