Fursdays wif Stef #32

I’ve spoken about feminism before, but after a day of reading comments from people who clearly have no clue what it is, let me just post a Webster’s dictionary definition:

Feminism: 1) the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes. 2) organized activity of behalf of women’s rights and interests.
Where is all this coming from you might ask? Skepchick blogger Rebecca Watson posted this video, where she discusses what she considers anti-feminist conduct:

If you don’t want to watch the whole thing (as it’s not all relevant to my point), start a little after 4:00. Otherwise, this is what she said that concerns me:
(After being at a bar with people at a conference where she spoke), “…so I walk to the elevator, and a man got on the elevator with me and said, ‘Don’t take this the wrong way, but I find you very interesting, and I would like to talk more. Would you like to come to my hotel room for coffee?’ Um, just a word to wise here, guys, uh, don’t do that. You know, I don’t really know how else to explain how this makes me incredibly uncomfortable, but I’ll just sort of lay it out that I was a single woman, you know, in a foreign country, at 4:00 am, in a hotel elevator, with you, just you, and–don’t invite me back to your hotel room right after I finish talking about how it creeps me out and makes me uncomfortable when men sexualize me in that manner…”
It’s possible the man actually just wanted to talk and do nothing more, but I’ll even give that point to her; I obviously wasn’t there, and don’t know what sort of vibes he was giving off. Fair enough. My concern is that she takes issue with a man showing interest in her. What’s wrong with that? How on earth does that justify him as creepy? Are we not sexual beings? Let’s review, it’s not as if he touched her or made an unsolicited sexual comment; he merely asked if she’d like to come back to his room. She easily could have said (and I’m assuming did say), “No thanks, I’m tired and would like to go to my room to sleep.”
Watson is upset that this man is sexualizing her just after she gave a talk relating to feminism, but my question is this: Since when are respecting women as equals and showing sexual interest mutually exclusive? Is it not possible to view to take interest in a woman AND see her as an intelligent person?
Someone who truly abides by feminist principles would, in my view, have to react in the same manner were the situation reversed; if a woman were to engage a man in the same way, she would probably be creeping him out and making him uncomfortable and unfairly sexualizing him, right? But of course no one ever makes that claim, which is why I see Watson’s comment as so hypocritical.
If you really want social equality for women, which is what feminism is, why not apply the same standards to men and women, and stop demonizing men for being sexual beings?

Comments

  1. Adam says:

    I just want to add to what Stef said:

    Why should (as it seems Rebecca suggests) that there must be a dichotomy between sexual interest and respecting their intellectual abilities? We can do both. Would you like to marry/date someone who fits only one of those or would you rather find someone who “fits” both attractiveness and intelligence?

    Would this story be any different if it was a women who stopped her in the elevator? What if the man is gay? (or…marrried?) Just because he stopped her late (even for a conference, late) in an elevator doesn’t mean he wished sexual advance onto her.

  2. jap says:

    http://skepchick.org/2006/04/a-very-heretical-easter/

    Rebecca wrote

    While others around the world were spending their weekend commemorating the miraculous resurrection of Jeeeezus by wearing big straw hats, painting chicken eggs, and eating the special pastel-colored M&Ms;, I was drinking too much, dancing‚ suggestively with strangers, and celebrating my lack of godliness at the American Atheists’ annual conference, held in San Antonio, Texas. All in all it was a good time. Though I disagreed with quite a bit of what was said by the presenters, the panel discussion, and the “Is There a God” debate, I think American Atheists is a very good organization and quite necessary in that it helps provide support and a voice to the nonreligious. Highlight of the weekend: watching two hot college girls on a panel fight over the use of humor and controversy to spread the atheistic word. I kept hoping the moderator would suggest we all head upstairs to a hotel room and settle this with a tickle fight.

    If you thought that last sentence was condescending, you didn’t hear the girls in question going back and forth over who failed to invite whom to a party/meeting/whatever.

    If you want to hear more about what I thought of the weekend (and not just the random sexual fantasies I entertained), you’ll have to wait to read the article I’m going to write about it for Skeptic.

  3. jap says:

    What Rebecca wrote in that blogpost isn’t shameful. Don’t take her the wrong way.
    Because when she’s uncomfortable when men sexualize her in that manner, it’s different when she writes
    watching two hot college girls on a panel fight over the use of humor and controversy to spread the atheistic word.
    and its different when she says
    I kept hoping the [MALE] moderator would suggest we all head upstairs to a hotel room and settle this with a tickle fight.
    and because the only thing those women talked about on a panel that was interesting was not about organizations or networking or anything like that
    If you thought that last sentence was condescending, you didn’t hear the girls in question going back and forth over who failed to invite whom to a party/meeting/whatever.
    and this wouldn’t have featured elevators.
    If you want to hear more about what I thought of the weekend (and not just the random sexual fantasies I entertained), you’ll have to wait to read the article I’m going to write about it for Skeptic.
    People like you need to be called out.

  4. Josh says:

    “Someone who truly abides by feminist principles would, in my view, have to react in the same manner were the situation reversed; if a woman were to engage a man in the same way, she would probably be creeping him out and making him uncomfortable and unfairly sexualizing him, right? But of course no one ever makes that claim, which is why I see Watson’s comment as so hypocritical.”

    I would agree with you on this point if there was already “…political, economic, and social equality of the sexes”. However, given that men curently hold the balance of power (social, physical, etc.) I would argue that the role-reversal you suggest for Watson would have a much different social dynamic, and thus could not be considered to be an analogous situation.

    As for the definition of Feminism you provided, the realization of 1) is the goal of feminism, whereas the enactment of 2) is the means to achieve said goal. Neither 1) nor 2) point to the idea that we should assume that men and women are already treated equally when we analyze their interactions. Indeed, feminism must be predicated on the existence of unequal treatment between the sexes (If men and women were already equal, then there would be little reason for all of this kerfuffle), so I think it’s unfair to expect Watson to react in the same manner in both the ‘situation’ and the ‘reversed situation’.

    In conclusion, I’m sorry for writing run-on sentences, using arcane/abstruse language, and not getting to the point.

  5. Cods says:

    Thank you, Josh!

  6. cass_m says:

    Came via Friendly Atheist because I wanted to see the response to RW’s post that she mentioned in her talk.

    Short question in response to your highlighted question. How is it respecting someone to ask them to delay their STATED desire to accommodate yours? Are you saying that when you have a sexual desire it’s important to act on it than anything else? Are people that desperate for intimacy?

    It *is* creepy and uncomfortable to put a man in the same position-alone in an elevator, late at night after he’s said he want to go to sleep. It assumes that every man is ready and willing to have sex with anyone at any time. While he may not fear being physically harmed, if he’s at all a nice guy he has to be polite and tactful.

    Your question is exactly why businesses have ongoing courses on sexual harassment. People really can’t figure out context matters.

  7. Cath says:

    While I agree with you that men and women should have equal rights to show interest in one another. I think you have missed the point. I agree that “respecting women as equals and showing sexual interest” are not mutually exclusive but the issue here is not only about respect. It is also perceived threat and privilege.

    I suggest you read the two articles below as it is far more eloquent than I am and they make the point very clearly:

    http://kateharding.net/2009/10/08/guest-blogger-starling-schrodinger%E2%80%99s-rapist-or-a-guy%E2%80%99s-guide-to-approaching-strange-women-without-being-maced/

    https://sindeloke.wordpress.com/2010/01/13/37/

    But I shall add my two cents any way.

    It was not the fact that a man showed interest in Rebecca Watson, but the situation. Personally, I would be creeped out if a man or woman approached me in an isolated area, where I could not escape. Cornering someone is often perceived as a threat. The man in the story did corner Ms Watson and shy or not, he had plenty of opportunity to approach her in a non-threatening environment where she felt safe. It is implied that he was present at her talk, therefore, he should have known that these situations make her uncomfortable. He should have respected that and not approached her. From the video I get the sense that the situation was creepy. The fact that Ms Watson had just given a talk on the sexualisation of women was the icing on the cake.
    The man showed blatant disregard for her viewpoint and did exactly what she asked men not to do. He clearly did not respect her wishes.

    Different people have different sensitivities to what is or is not perceived as a threat. While you may not feel threatened in this situation others do. I admit I would feel less threatened if a woman approached me in the lift. I feel I would better be able to defend myself against a female assailant. This is less likely to be the case were I cornered by a man. I perceive the man to be a bigger threat. Why is that? I live in a country (South Africa) with one of the highest if not the highest reported instances of sexual assault.

    For example: http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=84909

    and

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/8107039.stm

    Work is being done to change the status of women here but it is a slow process and it is not helped by the attitudes of our politicians.

    But the UK and the Republic of Ireland are not immune:

    http://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/documents/Rape%20-%20The%20Facts.doc

    and

    http://irish-nationalism.net/showthread.php/5306-Rape-Statistics-Ireland

    One in 5 women have reported sexual assault compared to 1 in 10 for men. To me this leads some credence to feeling creeped out when solicited in an isolated place akin to a cage. The environment where this man chose to approach Ms Watson is why he posed a greater perceived threat. A much better method would have been to approach her before she entered the lift or even latter in the day. If he had been chatting to her during the evening then he could have asked her to come to his room because he has proved that he is less of a threat.

    ”Someone who truly abides by feminist principles would, in my view, have to react in the same manner were the situation reversed; if a woman were to engage a man in the same way, she would probably be creeping him out and making him uncomfortable and unfairly sexualizing him, right?” This may be the case and yes it may be creepy but there is a distinct difference between the perceived threat in the two scenarios. The men I know would not perceive the woman to be a threat. This is also where the issue of privilege comes into play. Men do not have to worry about the intentions behind an unsolicited advance. Women do.

    However, the reverse situation is not an issue here because Ms Watson said it made her feel uncomfortable. That she finds it creepy when men sexulise her.

  8. BlackSun says:

    Stef, I’m totally with you. We atheists spend all this time harping on about how we can speak “truth” and “rationality” and it doesn’t matter how it makes religious people feel. If it threatens their entire belief system–the thing they base their entire life upon. In New Atheist parlance, they should “get over” their feelings because they are irrational.

    Yet I hear people defending Skepchick because she “might have” felt threatened and feelings are important. The reality was that she was not threatened in any way. She felt “uncomfortable.” Sorry but *big deal.* We don’t have the right not to feel uncomfortable at any time. That’s just crazy talk. The reality is that she was not “sexualized” or “harassed.” She was invited for coffee with someone she was not interested in at a time that was inappropriate. So why do atheists not apply the same standard of truth and reality over feelings?

    The deciding factor was that she was not interested. If it was a man or woman she was attracted to or interested in who invited her for coffee, things would have been very different.

    So the simple matter was that she exercised her prerogative to say “no” and the man left her alone. Nothing more need be said.

    For her to bring it up publicly was to invite the shitstorm which has ensued. I hope it was worth it.

  9. Maggy Capica says:

    Wonderfully said, Stef. Thanks especially for helping distinguish between sexism and sexuality. As some commenters have observed, context makes a lot of difference. Also, of course, I wasn’t in that elevator with them, so I don’t really know what when on and with what vibes, as you put it. Based on what Rebecca said in her video blog, I think your points are spot on, including about separating the two issues. Thanks for your obvious thoughtfulness here.

  10. bioephemera says:

    “Someone who truly abides by feminist principles would, in my view, have to react in the same manner were the situation reversed; if a woman were to engage a man in the same way, she would probably be creeping him out and making him uncomfortable and unfairly sexualizing him, right?”

    Perhaps, but it would not be frightening unless she was significantly larger than he was. Men’s physical size and strength, and the disproportionate amount of crime towards women by men, not vice versa, make the situation asymmetrical – at least for most women.

    I am not a small woman, and I was once cornered alone in a dorm room by a man who pushed his way in after me, after striking up a friendly conversation in the hallway; I could have assumed he just wanted to talk or have coffee, but I was nonetheless terrified because physically, he was large enough to overpower me. Luckily, I escaped – after he grabbed me and kissed me. A few years later, one of my good friends was raped by a stranger in a public place.

    I often feel unsafe when completely alone with a larger male stranger. Is that sad? Definitely. But it’s not irrational, and it doesn’t make me a hypocrite. I’d love to live in a world where all women had to fear was unfortunate, yet *nonphysical & nonviolent* objectification of our bodies and disrespect of our minds. In that world, I would agree with you that objectification by either men or women was equally offensive. But we don’t live in that world. At least, I don’t.

  11. Becca says:

    Respecting women as equals should mean listening to them… well, unless you want to live an equal but shitty world where nobody listens to anyone :-P

    Rebecca Watson had already explicitly expressed during the panel that she did not want people to express sexual interest in her. She further expressed implicitly that she did not even want to engage with people socially (for that night)… thus the “I’ve had enough and am going to bed” comment.

    Ignoring these very clearly expressed preferences was quite rude.

    Furthermore, if (as I suspect is likely) people in general are much more likely to ignore the expressed preferences of women compared to those of men, it is a pretty nasty effect of sexism in our culture.

    Feminism, in the second definition provided by Webster’s, is in part about raising awareness for when certain behaviors contribute to a sexist society. In this case, it’s making the person aware that his behavior was fostering a culture in which women’s preferences are valued less than men’s preferences.

    @BlackSun- I think Watson’s use of the phrase “incredibly uncomfortable”, does, in context, imply “threatened”. However, wouldn’t the logical thing be to ask Rebecca Watson whether she felt threatened?

  12. Becca nailed it. Watson made her preferences clear, and this man violated them. Stef’s post also completely ignored the concept of male privilege. Women are primarily the targets of sexual assault. The man’s actions showed that he has never had to worry about the possibility of assault. He clearly did not consider the implications of propositioning a woman alone in an elevator at 4 in the morning.

  13. BlackSun says:

    Does anyone have evidence that “elevator guy” heard Rebecca say she was tired?

  14. FuzzyD says:

    In reference to two points above:

    I often feel unsafe when completely alone with a larger male stranger. Is that sad? Definitely. But it’s not irrational, and it doesn’t make me a hypocrite.

    and

    The man’s actions showed that he has never had to worry about the possibility of assault.

    I am male and also can feel unsafe when alone with a larger male stranger. Or a group of male strangers walking down the street towards me at 4am. Or some kid out to prove something to his mates who engages me in conversation in an attempt to start an argument leading to a fight. I feel unsafe in some places late at night and try to avoid them.

    Men are not immune to physical violence. Men are not protected by some privilege from the abhorrent behaviour of violent people.

  15. Becca says:

    @BlackSun – uhm, yeah. Watson was quite explicit on that point. In fact, that was one of the things that annoyed her about this post- that Stef omitted mention of the fact that Watson had already stated her desire to go to bed.

    From the video itself, it is pretty clear, although not directly stated. But Watson first talks about ‘this one guy’ and then says “WE were at the bar” and then talks about him getting onto the elevator with her. Therefore, I think the implication is pretty clear that the guy was, in fact, at the bar and did, in fact, hear her say she was exhausted and going to bed.

    @FuzzyD- you are quite right that men are not immune to physical violence. On the other hand, I also wouldn’t state that non-smokers are immune to lung cancer (I think 15% of lung cancer patients are never-smokers).

  16. While I certainly do not doubt or have any desire to minimize the experiences of Ms. Watson and other women who repeatedly receive unwanted sexual advances (and threats), I believe that the entire issue is overblown:

    Sexism is the belief (and more importantly, the differential treatment that results from such belief) that one sex is superior to the other. In the American historical context, men have long been (incorrectly, obviously) regarded as superior to women. It is clearly apparent that “Elevator Guy” dismissed Ms. Watson’s statements concerning her discomfort with unwanted male pursuit and her intent to retire for the evening. He is thus rightly chided for being obtuse, selfish, and disrespectful. Concluding that his actions were sexist, however, requires demonstrating that he disregarded Ms. Watson’s stated intentions because of her sex. While there is certainly a long history of men ignoring women’s preferences concerning sexual advances, I am not convinced that the fact of this history alone is sufficient grounds to state with certainty that “Elevator Guy” is sexist or misogynist.

    I also resent the assertion that my position is patently callous or sexist. I recognize that I not only enjoy male privilege, but that I also experience what could be termed “double male privilege” due to my sexual orientation. As a gay man, I do not relate intimately with women and thus am unaware of the personal concerns that they may express only in the privacy of their romantic relationships. Nor must I heed such concerns when pursuing romance, since I pursue men. Nevertheless, I remain unconvinced that merely believing that this issue is overblown makes me (or Dr. Dawkins) ignorant or insensitive concerning issues of sex inequality.

    Certainly men must recognize the legitimacy of female discomfort in enclosed spaces. But when some “feminists” suggest that “polite” and “considerate” men decline opportunities to enter an elevator in which a woman stands alone, I do not see an argument promoting respect and equality for women. Instead, I see a rather insulting assertion that women are frightened, helpless, victims-in-waiting unable to defend themselves. This perspective also limits men – presumably even gay ones like me – by implying that a woman’s right to not feel any level of discomfort, whether justified or not, transcends a man’s right to ride in the elevator. This is not equality; this is a reversal of who has privilege.

    More importantly, I feel that Dr. Dawkins has been unfairly pilloried. Ms. Watson and some of her supporters have recently posted extreme, divisive reactions on Skepchick. Ms. Watson refers derisively to Dr. Dawkins as a “wealthy old heterosexual white man,” states that she will boycott his work, and thanks her supporters for “bravely battling [Dawkins] and the hoards of clueless privileged people who didn’t get it.” The open letters to Dr. Dawkins are more severe: “I look forward to watching your legacy crash and burn,” wrote Mindy, who concluded with “you don’t get a second chance.” Another letter opened with “Dear Dick” and accused Dr. Dawkins of making the skeptic community “blatantly unsafe” for women.

    Language such as this, dripping with negative emotional reactivity, eclipses the legitimate perspective the writers wish to express, reveals as hypocrites those who have targeted Dr. Dawkins for his tone, and threatens to split apart a movement that already has more than enough challenges. (Dr. Dawkins now faces retribution in the actual press.) Further, the ferociousness of the accusations of sexism and misogyny directed at Dr. Dawkins and others only serves, rightly or wrongly, to provide ammunition to the real “men’s rights activists” out there who believe that feminism is about revenge rather than equality.

  17. @Chris Willett: Dawkins is facing accusations of sexism because his comment on Pharyngula was in fact sexist. It’s very simple. As a skeptic, I am uncomfortable with this community’s adulation for a man who decries religion as irrational until he decides irrational arguments suit his purpose for the moment. Not only do his comments at Pharyngula utterly ignore the prevalence of male privilege and the daily caution women experience as the primary victims of sexual violence, his patronizing attitude toward Muslim women and Islam itself is despicable.

  18. repete66211 says:

    “Male privilege” is an artifact of the sort of soft science–social “science”–which are contained entirely and solely in the minds of Women’s Studies academics. As with concepts in other “______ Studies” departments, such concepts are self-serving, self-perpetuating and self-justifying in that they create a perceived grievance and an “other” against which to rally.

    Why is it I see no one mentioning RW’s mention a few years ago of the “insidious” sexism pervading the skeptical movement? Is sexism really as rampant as she claims or do we have another example of the old adage, “When all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail”?

  19. sehkmet says:

    What Rebecca Watson said was not overblown. All this controversy over her fairly low key comments about elevator man are what’s overblown.

  20. klandestine says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  21. klandestine says:

    @Adam, still creepy if a woman, less dangerous. A gay man: that suggestion makes me think you’re just being argumentative. You completely change the context, but you are pretending to assert that the content itself was neutral when the definition of the post was that the content was context-sensitive. I’m calling bs.
    and simply reversing the situation is not an equivalency, even if the woman is larger. One would have to reverse society at large as well as the conditioning of the individuals involved.

    And yes, it did mean he wished something other than a cup of coffee, unless the bar was closed, and yes it does still mean that he refused to take her at her word when she left all her companions to go to sleep alone, which is has sexist overtones, no matter what you choose to see.

  22. sandwiches says:

    So, being raped randomly by men is a real fear some women have, now, huh?

    Wow… reminds me of the religious who see demons and sinners everywhere. The fact that the people supporting Watson fail to see her extreme sexism in being afraid that a man would rape her and sexualized her from a request for coffee amazes me.

    Apparently, it’s totally not sexist to think that men are animals incapable of controlling their sexual urges and might use their mythical privilege and superior strength (which is totally NOT superior in any other context) to sexually assault women when they reject their advances. Truly eye-opening.

  23. There’s a great deal of nitpicking obfuscation here, which distracts from the central issue. There is a particular viewpoint — seemingly often called a “feminist” viewpoint, though I’m not sure why it should be — which says that any action by a man which has some chance of making a woman uncomfortable is a crime, and should be treated as such (including by the man himself, meaning it’s something he should never do in good conscience).

    The endpoint of this viewpoint can be seen here:

    http://xkcd.com/642/

    Anyone who thinks there’s a substantial difference between the scene in the comic and the one described in the blog post, is kidding themselves and wasting everyone’s time. Face the issue squarely.

  24. Anon9YXyTumE says:

    I think that English is perhaps one of the most gender neutral languages that there is. The opposite is not necessarily “male centric” though, there are seemingly random gender attributes to sexless objects and verbs, it’s not all designed to subliminarly reinforce male domination, I think.

  25. I’ve been revolted by the entire incident. Not only did Rebecca overreact and probably cause at least one socially awkward skeptic to avoid all further conferences, she and her feminazi mob are acting like sharks in blooded water, attacking anyone that disagrees with them with some of the most uncritical, illogical, and decidedly non-skeptical arguments I have ever seen outside of an evolution vs creationism chat room.

    I’ve been annoyed enough to create a parody of the ridiculous Schrodinger’s Rapist being thrown around, Schrodinger’s Psycho Bitch, which while mocking the original, is at least based on facts and studies that are generally overlooked.

    Rebecca has made me an anti-feminist with her attention seeking and abandonment of reasoned, unbiased debate. Fortunately I am still an egalitarian, which is what Feminism should be anyhow, but isn’t.

  26. finchwench says:

    Thanks for posting this. I would have expected the Skeptic crowd to respond more rationally; instead, they have polluted the blogosphere with a flurry of appeals to be “more welcoming to women” (as if atheists do not already want women around?). Anyway, there is a biological reason for sexism to some extent, as people who “preach” Darwin should know! That Elevatorgate has been elevated to “-gate” status is just silly to me.

  27. We are not all as immature: Open letter to Rebecca Watson and Richard Dawkins http://bit.ly/pSpoBg

  28. LesterBrunt says:

    I keep hearing that because women are physically not as strong as men they are justified in feeling unsafe when being with a man in a confined space.
    Well but not all men are as strong as each other. Infact there is a big difference between strength in men.
    I as a man am not the biggest or the strongest and often walk past very large guys in an alley or stand with them in a elevator. Should I be scared? Would it be innapropriate for a bigger person to ask me the time in an elevator? For all I know he wants to distract me to rob me or even worse, rape and/or kill me. I mean if we go down that road it would be innapropriate for a muslim man to enter a airplane if there were people onboard that felt uncomfortable and this brings us to the central issue, uncomfort.

    Just because you are uncomfortable doesn’t give you a pass to be omit from it. Nobody is responsible, to an extent that is, for your emotional suffering. If you get depressed by a tv show the tv show does not have the responsibility to make you happy or not depressed. Just like a person. I or you does not have the responsibility to make everyone feel comfortable.

    I have a right to make you feel uncomfortable, to an extent that is but it is true. As long as you are not feeling uncomfortable due to illegal acts it really is your own problem if you feel uncomfortable.

    Like somebody else already said when are these so called sceptics going to apply the standard they hold to religion to themselves? If a Christian feels uncomfortable because an atheist gives him a pamphlet that states the 10 reason god is bs all sceptics would say “Tough luck” but once it happens to them its a problem and should be solved cause the last thing we should have is people being uncomfortable.

  29. sologake says:

    Great video I really like that .. .. ..
    Vertical Jump Bible

  30. [...] being sexualized is the same as being the object of sexist behavior. From McGraw’s original post here she writes, “Watson is upset that this man is sexualizing her just after she gave a talk [...]