Take Back The Elevator

I so rarely get to say this, so I’m going to put it in bold:


Really – the only time in recent memory I can remember expressing this sentiment was when a guy I know was relaying exactly how mortifying it is to have a penis in junior high school. (Short answer: Very.)

But the up-side of the completely random fact that I have a vagina, in this particular case, is that I feel fine stating a dissenting opinion in regards to feminist views of sexism. We’ll leave random erections on the sidelines for a while.

There has been an explosion in the skeptical blogosphere lately which was sparked by a video created by Skepchick founder Rebecca Watson. She spoke of an incident wherein she was approached and, seemingly, hit on by a guy in an elevator at a hotel housing the conference at which she was speaking. That’s one complicated sentence, right?

When Watson originally told this anecdote, I was somewhat in agreement with her. Her issue seemed to be, “Hey man, I’m a professional, don’t approach me this way – it ain’t cool.” And I agreed that an elevator is not a good place to ask for a date (if, indeed, that’s even what the guy was doing. He asked her back to his room for coffee, according to her, because she was interesting. Not like, “Hey, nice tits, let’s go do nasty.”).

But upon further reflection, even that isn’t a great reason to be irritated, in my view. I know that I’ve felt that way at conferences, but it’s because of an emotional deflation that occurs when people seem to have ignored who I am in a professional capacity in their haste to remove my panties as quickly as possible.

But I can’t REALLY be mad about that. Because I do eventually want someone to remove my panties, and at some point that topic has to come up in conversation. Unless, in some kind of romance movie special effect moment, our clothes magically fly off and a well-timed earthquake throws our bodies together. I can be pissed off at the method or the location or the person, but that is far more easily put down to social awkwardness on the part of the guy or disinterest on my part than some secret desire he has to subjugate me.

Now, I’m going to make a couple leaps of logic in this article, and I hope to point them out as they happen because so much of the dramastorm around this issue seems to stem from them.

Leap Number One: The guy wanted to have sex.

We don’t know that. We can’t know that unless he raises his head and tells us so, and if I was that guy, I’d already be changing my name and moving to a third world country.

People are saying that this guy should’ve known that the elevator was a bad place to hit on a woman, because she is trapped and so on, and he might’ve been a rapist, and even if he wasn’t a rapist, he should’ve known that hitting on a woman in an elevator might make him LOOK like a rapist, and shame on that guy for being so insensitive to the plight of women!

Okay – I get your point. I really do. Elevators can be isolated places, and no one is making the argument that they’re not. No one is looking at this guy’s actions and saying, “Damn, what a smooth motherfucker.”

However, this was not an elevator in a parking garage in Detroit at 4am, so for God’s sake, stop acting like the story might as well have occurred on the moon.

It was in a hotel. In Dublin. You can say he might’ve had a gun, or might’ve had a knife, or might’ve been a black belt in karate, or might’ve been Chuck Norris in an extremely clever disguise, but the fact is that if any one of those was the case, you’d be totally screwed from the moment you stepped into that elevator anyway. What the guy said at that moment doesn’t enter into it.

And we’ve reached Leap of Logic Number Two: The concern was rape or physical harm.

In her original video, Watson doesn’t actually say anything about either. What she said was that it bothers her when men sexualize her in that manner – again, a statement I can get behind until I really start thinking about it and come to realize that, you know, sometimes I do want to be sexualized, and my issue is more with who is doing it than that it’s happening. And sometimes the setting. Again, not a smooth motherfucker.

What bothers me is that people think this is a feminist issue when, really, it’s a human issue. Respect boundaries. Think ahead. Consider what other people are thinking at the time. I’m not going to go around saying that there should be a special rule about approaching women when the fact is that we could probably all do with a little tact.

In fact, consider the opposite. Let’s say that Phil Plait is on an elevator with a woman who has been listening to him talk for a while in a bar. He’s tired; he’s headed up to bed. The woman asks him to come to her room. Now, if he says ‘no,’ he’s going to have to sit out the rest of this bizarre elevator ride in total silence knowing he rejected someone who may or may not be about to cry or bean him with her purse. What Watson said was that it made her uncomfortable. And if this situation was Plait instead of Watson, dammit, he’d feel uncomfortable too. Claiming that this is just a problem for females is, sorry, just a little bit sexist.

Which is why I think the rape issue was so gladly pounced upon as an excuse for blowing this so far out of proportion that it’s gone beyond caricature. Again – the original issue; the original problem was not rape. It was discomfort. It was lack of tact. Please, keep saying that to yourself.

Now, at this point in the discussion, Richard Dawkins made a very unfortunate comment in a blog post at Pharyngula which was about this whole mess. It was an over-the-top comparison of the supposed plight of Watson to the actual subjugation of Muslim women. It could be summarized, basically, as “QUITCHERBITCHIN (and, as an aside, quit flying it under the banner of sexism).” Honestly, I think he should’ve just said that, because the backlash would’ve been relatively minor. Instead, though, he made a big show of the specific comparisons and how they rendered Watson’s issue meaningless. Unfortunately, the same comparison could, if you tilt your head and squint real hard, be said to make the plight of all rape victims meaningless. Obviously, that’s not what he meant, and Dawkins attempted to clarify, and thus dug himself deeper into the dramafest that is Elevatorgate.

Dawkins’ point, I believe, was about privilege. Many feminists say that wealthy white men don’t understand the concerns of women because men have been born into a privileged class. I believe that Dawkins was attempting to point out the irony of privilege – how it’s so easy for someone that has it to not recognize that they do. And, additionally, his point was that absolutely nothing actually happened.

“But it could have!” you cry.

“BUT IT DIDN’T,” I say, and then again point out that this is a tact issue and someone might want to start a mailing list for Miss Manners, but there’s no reason to bring vaginas into it.

Today, Skepchick posted another article directed at Dawkins. It’s a series of letters written by Skepchick readers, calling out Dawkins for his insensitivity toward The Plight Of Women. Again – I agree that he made an unfortunate comparison, but really, the things being said about him are beyond ludicrous. Funnily enough, though, I wrote to Dawkins myself only yesterday.

Within my e-mail to him, I said that I believe Watson was intellectually dishonest in her original article about him. And this is why:

Watson, within her original article, defended her position by saying that she had only said that it made her uncomfortable that the guy hit on her in the elevator – that she didn’t call for an end to all sex, or all overtures, or anything of that nature. Which is fine – I agree as stated above.

However, then she said that the last time she saw Dawkins, she was on a panel speaking about how she had received rape threats in the past. She then posted a screencap of one of the rape threats.

This made it seem like the Dawkins issue had something to do with rape when it didn’t. She might as well have posted “The last time I saw him was at Burger King,” and then inserted an image of Dawkins wearing a cardboard crown, eating a Whopper.

In other words, she loaded the gun and pulled the slide, and you, her readership, pulled the trigger on her behalf.

And now there’s all this.

As I said – at this moment in time, I am very happy to be a woman, because I know many men who want to say these things and feel like they’re not allowed to do so. However, I do also go forward with a bit of fear. Traditionally, what happens to women like me is we get labeled “part of the problem” (awesome term, right there), and the personal attacks fling around the room like so much monkey poo at a zoo.

But maybe instead we can all take a deep breath and figure out what the problem really is, and how better to communicate in the future to prevent such madness. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

About Alison Smith

Alison Smith is a freelance writer, event planner, and marketing coordinator. She worked for three years at the James Randi Educational Foundation, focusing mainly on the Million Dollar Challenge. She has consulted on various television shows about the paranormal, and has lectured on the subject across the United States.
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85 Responses to Take Back The Elevator

  1. Matthew Myers says:

    Y’know who’s really feeling awkward right now?
    “…and if I was that guy, I’d already be changing my name and moving to a third world country.”
    Yeah, that guy. Tried without jury. I hope he remains anonymous until things cool down. -.- I feel sorry for the poor bastard.

    • elevator screen says:

      I agree with you..seems they thought that there’s no other place aside from that..Why not go to place where they are more comfortable and there,they can express their feelings!

  2. Ztarr says:

    Thanks so much for the post. I think you’ve summed up my feelings on the matter better than I could have. People love to jump to easy, black and white conclusions despite the fact that things are usually more complicated and nuanced.

    There definitely needs to be a lot more skepticism applied to the subject of feminism. I think my own blog from today touched on similar ideas: http://www.saramayhew.com/blog/index.php/2011/07/some-practical-thoughts-women-in-skepticism/

  3. randomactsofreason says:

    THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU Alison for being a (surprisingly and discouragingly rare) voice of actual reason in this tidal wave of irrational, illogical, and uncritically thinking, this mindless mental mob.

    How depressingly novel for a member of the “community of reason” to actually apply the basic tools of critical thinking, to thoughtfully evaluate the merit of a set of arguments and come to an independent, nuanced, considered conclusion, while refusing to blindly accept the simplistic false dichotomies intended (ironically) to stifle, dominate and impose a po-mo PC POV, rather than enable rational dialog and participate in potentially enlightening exploration.

    How refreshing to see someone refuse to buy into the uniquely American fetish of aggressive victim-addiction, competing for the greatest victim-group–affiliation creds with which to claim inherent moral superiority over everyone else.

    How refreshing for you to remind of the blindingly obvious – that poor behavior is a human issue, not an [insert victim-club here] issue.

    How depressing to see the haste with which true believers among us abandon all pretense at critical thinking and act exactly like the unquestioning, blindly following, dogmatic thinkers to which we supposedly represent a thoughtful alternative. How sad to see the absurd leaps of hyperbole, polarization, reducio ad absurdum, ad hominem and other basic logic fallacies paraded, in a noble cause, as badges of honor, in our supposedly reasonable community.

    How sad that I feel the need to post my support of your comments using a fucking pseudonym, lest the wrath of the intolerant true believers end critical community relationships upon which I depend – and how ironic that I feel safer being an open atheist in a theist society using my real name to express my opinions, than I do right now in the “freethinking” community expressing verboten critical dissent with the po-mo victim-wannabe status quo.

    How sad that we can’t even have a rational, reasonable discussion about something like this. Kudos for you for doing your best to promote such a discussion.

  4. realee says:

    See I was under the impression that when she posted what you call “intellectually dishonest” it was more about the hateful overblown response to her original statement.

    The discussion had gone from why the incident would make a women feel uncomfortable, to why that could pose a physical risk to a woman in a worst case scenario, to other greater issues of whether women should even concern themselves with the threat of rape and the likelihood it could happen to a woman in her lifetime. Every step of the way there have been a mountain of comments contesting every position. The discussion had become essentially, “What do women of the west really have to complain about?” Which is partially why I think the post by Dawkins was so out of line. In that context in makes sense to point out that he had just heard some of the harsher things she had to deal with. And to get that kind of response from him when what she had said was essentially “please don’t do this guys”… I don’t find it intellectually dishonest.

  5. Anatole says:

    The scenario you constructed with Phil Plait is not comparable to the situation with Rebecca Watson. The societal circumstances of a woman is not equal to those of a man. They are different in a number of areas. I don’t think that this is a very controversial statement, no?

    I think that’s sort of what Rebecca Watson tried to illustrate when she brought up the rape threats. I doubt many male skeptics/atheists that are in the public eye are threatened with rape. So, she didn’t imply that the “Dawkins situation” had something directly to do with rape, she was just trying to explain to some of the denser individuals out there why it isn’t silly or stupid for her (and other women) to be slightly more uncomfortable being hit on in an hotel elevator at 4 in the morning by some person she doesn’t really know than let’s say…Phil Plait.

    What I think is sexist about this whole situation is not what happened to Rebecca Watson in that elevator, but rather the reaction by a significant portion of the community to her statements about the incident. I think this issue would have faded away days ago had not a great many people, in various degrees of dismissive condescension, challenged Rebecca Watsons right to feel uncomfortable in the elevator situation. Either that, or criticized her for saying anything about it. “The oversensitive, hysterical woman making a big deal out of a small, harmless incident!” and so on.

    • phlebas says:

      Yes, this. Well said.

    • Pharylon says:

      >The scenario you constructed with Phil Plait is not comparable to the situation with
      >Rebecca Watson. The societal circumstances of a woman is not equal to those of a man.
      >They are different in a number of areas. I don’t think that this is a very controversial
      >statement, no?

      I don’t think there’s much of a difference, besides men tend to hit on women a lot more than vice versa. You can’t make a statement like that which supposedly undermines her basic premise without any supporting detail. If you want to sway someone to your side, give us the reasons why you think you’re right.

      >I think that’s sort of what Rebecca Watson tried to illustrate when she brought up the
      >rape threats. I doubt many male skeptics/atheists that are in the public eye are
      >threatened with rape. So, she didn’t imply that the “Dawkins situation” had something
      >directly to do with rape, she was just trying to explain to some of the denser individuals
      >out there why it isn’t silly or stupid for her (and other women) to be slightly more
      >uncomfortable being hit on in an hotel elevator at 4 in the morning by some person she
      >doesn’t really know than let’s say…Phil Plait.

      The way I see it, she used the feminist version of Godwin’s Law. She tried to bring up being tired and annoyed by someone when she just really wanted to go to sleep and turned it into a Feminist Issue (TM). Dawkins tried to point out that, y’know, being annoyed in an elevator isn’t a feminist issue, THESE THINGS

      • Pharylon says:

        Bah, hit return by accident. To continue…

        annoyed in an elevator isn’t a feminist issue, THESE THINGS are feminist issues. And then she was all like “Ohhh, well what about… RAPE!”

        Hey, look at that! You can bring up rape any time to win an argument with a guy if you’re a feminist! Neat trick! Now, I agree that the hateful comments she got was bad. But those hateful comments weren’t sent by Dawkins, where they? And, really, those were all the same vitriol “I hope you get murdered too” type of things that bloggers get on the internet all the time (hell, I had a tiny short lived blog for a while and even my little ass self got a couple “I WILL KILL YOU!” type of emails). There’s no real threat there. They’re not actually going to come over and rape/kill you. Hell, have you ever read the Daily Kos’s “hate mail of the week” threads? Kos is a guy, and he gets threatened with rape all the time.

        Look, Dawkins didn’t bring rape into it. Watson did, for no apparent reason, and put a screencap of her getting threatened with rape in the same thread where she was criticizing Dawkins for his response. That’s bullshit. It’s the same kind of thing Fox News does with Democrats. Guilt by association, but never explicitly saying anything.

        She never actually said Dawkins was belittling rape threats… but she sure implied it really hard.

    • Skepguy says:

      I agree that the alleged Elevator Guy’s attitude was inappropriate; Rebecca Watson had a right to feel uncomfortable – even IF due to misunderstanding or cultural differences. I agree that the Dawkins’ response was insensitive; he should rather stay out of it. Now, let me turn the table, by paraphrasing her:

      “Just a word to the wise here, ladies. Don’t do that. I don’t know how else to explain how this makes me very uncomfortable, but I’ll just sort of lay it out: I wholeheartedly support equal rights and opportunities of genders, I’ve never harassed any woman in my life and I never had any desire to approach Skepchik as I’d presume is valid for a vast majority of the rationalist community – so don’t patronize, imply sexism and generalize an awkward attitude of a single man on all of us in such an insensitive manner, please.”

      Does it sound like a parody? So does the original statement, IMHO. Unfortunately, I find again and again that radicalism can turn even an idea that I wholeheartedly support into its parody.


      Alison Smith, your statement reaffirms my opinion that women are a better part of humanity.

    • Bill says:

      Not true that men are not threatened by rape. One in 6 boys are the victims of sexual abuse and it effects them for the rest of their life. The men who commit rape also molest children. See Lisak and Miller study 2002 and visit 1 in 6.org.

  6. I think we should all just leave the drama to TNT and move on. I think Rebecca lost me then she encouraged people to disengage from the community and to stop supporting Dawkins on other issues. Dawkins was a jerk and I get that, but that is really just between him and Rebecca and we really don’t need all the drama. Great post Allison.

  7. donsie says:

    This post is pretty much spot on in terms of its reaction to the reaction to the reaction. See how silly this has gotten? Anyway, I do get a bit uncomfortable with taking leaps of logic with other people’s ideas but it’s something we all do in our minds anyway so it’s better to admit it upfront. It’s difficult to get scientists who like to believe they can be as empirical in matters of opinion and feelings and interpretation of language as they can be in their research to accept this. Many will not, as the reaction to reasonable statements such as your show.

    So, in brief:

    – Rebecca Watson was absolutely entitled to feel as she did and to make the (pretty uncontroversial) statement she did about it.

    – Sexist dudes (mostly) were entitled to make idiotic comments about Watson’s point but they were insensitive and foolish to do so, especially since they just illustrated how messed up gender relations actually are in their rush to demonize Watson.

    – Richard Dawkins gets off on trolling and that should have been a foregone conclusion. He needs to grow up. Also, Rich, your Islamaphobia’s showing and it ain’t pretty. I know it’s the atheist community but his infamous post lumped all of Mid-East/Africa/Central and South-East Asia/Eastern Europe/Australia (all places where FGM is practiced) cultural practices together with Islam. You can disagree with the religion but you shouldn’t be a bigot and a lazy thinker who conflates hideous acts that are culturally ingrained but justified by some religious tome with all practiced versions of the religion itself. It’s hateful to do so.

    – The existence of misogyny absolutely does not entitle anyone to be misandrist. This reaction to misogyny is one of the most embarrassing facets of feminism.

    – Male privilege is not best combated with some kind of feminist privilege to make assumptions about all men, especially by crying “potential rapist” to stifle all disagreement.

  8. S. says:

    Thank you for writing this.

  9. Zytheran says:

    Thank you for your well written, reasoned and reasonable approach.

    …One of those men who would like to say what you just said.

  10. Red McWilliams says:

    As I see it, the big problem was that Rebecca had already made her intentions known; she was tired and wanted to go to sleep. Had she said “all this talking sure is fun, anyone want to keep the conversation going? No? Okay, I’m going to wander around upstairs” Elevator Guy’s actions might be excused.

    That’s not how it went down though. Elevator Guy, either because he’s an insensitive creep or because he has an astoundingly low social IQ, put his desire to talk with Rebecca ahead of her desire to go to sleep. (I’m bring charitable in assuming that he did only want to talk)

    I think pervasive misogyny played a part here, but there is also an even wider point to be made about understanding the intentions of others and respecting their desires. As Allison said, this is a human issue, but it is also a feminism issue too.

    Oh, and earlier that day Rebecca had given a public speech about the difficulties women have to deal with and how we can help improve that situation. I guess Elevator Guy missed that talk.

  11. drbuzz0 says:

    excuse me if I am totally out of touch with the concerns and fears of a woman, because I’m a guy so I guess I don’t know exactly what it is like, but to me, the idea that being concerned about physical harm like rape in an elevator under these circumstances seem rather absurd.

    Lets just consider a few things in this situation:

    1. Does a guy coming onto you and trying to get you to voluntarily come to his room really imply that he’s looking to force you to do something if you don’t say yes? That seems a bit strange. Is he thinking “Well I’ll politely ask her first, but if that dos not work, I move onto plan B: just grab her and rip her clothes off.” I mean, really, if someone was going to rape you on an elevator, wouldn’t it be just as likely they’ll do it out of the blue than start by hitting on you?

    2. You really are not trapped on an elevator. It’s not like you could not get away. The elevator is going to be closed for very long. Maybe a minute, at the most? Could be a lot less if someone presses the button on a floor you pass. Its not hard to get off early either. Just start hitting floor buttons or press the “Door open” button which will often make it stop at the nearest floor it is at.

    Yes, I suppose the guy could overpower you before you can reach any button. I suppose he could hit the stop button (which on many elevators will trigger an alarm) or he could try to take you to a floor where nobody is likely to be, but really, is it that likely you wouldn’t be able to hit a button or have the door open? You’re not nearly as trapped as it seems.

    Regardless there’s little time. Elevators will not stop between floors and just it there indefinitely, unless there;s some kind of major mechanical failure. You’d only have to fend off your attacker for what? A few seconds? A minute?

    3. An elevator is a horrible place to try to victimize someone. Nearly all elevators have security cameras in them. They have intercoms. If the intercom is triggered or something, the assailant would have no chance of getting away. The door can open at any time. For all he knows, he could be starting to assault the woman when the elevator makes a stop on a floor where a bunch of police officers from a law enforcement convention are getting on. In a hotel, there is security, there’s also a guest list and they can find who it is. If the door opens and you run out screaming, people will come to your aid.

    No, its not a private, secluded place that gives a potential rapist a chance. Not at all!

    4. Rape of that type is very uncommon. Rape and sexual assault as crimes are not terribly uncommon, but most of the time it happens from someone you know – date rape or even a friend or coworker. Just having some random guy suddenly grab a woman he’s never met and violently rape her? It happens, but it’s a pretty rare event.

    It’s like the idea of a stranger breaking into your home, finding you sleep and shooting you. I can’t say it has not happened, but much as people worry about it, it is very rare.

    If she actually did go back to his room then I can imagine how that might be a more realistic fear, but in this circumstance, it hardly seems reasonable.

    Hitting on a woman does not mean you’re a rapist, or even imply it.

  12. Red McWilliams says:


    Rebecca’s video didn’t mention any concern about harm. It was simply an object lesson in treating women like equals and respecting their wishes. Some of the commenters in the ensuing brouhaha have brought up the concern about harm, but the comments about the initial interaction that started this whole mess were much simpler and narrowly focused.

    If there is a bigger point to be made here, I think it would be that we should all recognize that men and women see, and operate in, the world in different ways. Sometimes dramatically different ways. It’s important that we see and appreciate those differences when we interact with each other.

  13. Friendofbuzz0 says:

    Thank you Alison for a voice of reason in this mountain made from a molehill. My own tongue-in-cheek rant:

    Shameless Self-promotion 101
    How to get a couple of hundred more twitter followers really quickly!

    Step 1:
    Have a good web presence. It helps if you’re a smart and witty public figure with a moderate following already. Ideally you sometimes get asked to speak at events, and you’re known broadly among your circle of friends.
    Step 2:
    Post a You Tube video with a very factual and truthful account of a relatively minor happenstance. Something that is socially relevant, but fundamentally, mostly harmless. A racial slur, a homophobic joke, an awkward pickup line, having to deal with someone with poor hygiene on public transit – the more easily-related the incident is, the better.
    Step 3:
    Wait for someone to react to your report. This is the tricky bit – so make sure that your original report is just sensational enough to ensure that people will be motivated to comment on it. Making sure you target a really broad group of people will increase the likelihood that someone will bite.
    Step 4:
    Immediately go on the offensive. Use every online form of media you can to defend your right to be bothered by the event you documented at Step 2. Ideally, make use of a public speaking engagement to ensure that a whole bunch of people are swept up in the rant and are able to get out there and keep the fires burning on a variety of online mediums. Twitter, facebook, the blogosphere are ALL your friends at this stage.
    Step 5:
    Contact all other high-profile bloggers and media contacts you have in your network and nudge them to cover your plight. After all, since you’re creating a wave of discussion and debate about a relevant social topic, your like-minded friends will all want to join in the fun.
    Step 6:
    Wait for a high-profile commenter to post a flippant or ill-conceived argument on any one of the blogs that are covering your incident. The higher profile the better. Ideally, this person should be a controversial figure, respected in many circles for their intellect & wit, and shunned in others for being the champion of a disliked cause. Even better, this person should be a multi-million best-selling author with his/her own network of friends and colleagues who will leap to his/her defence. (You’ll want this at Step 8)
    Step 7:
    Once again, go on the attack. Point out how this successful intellectual has really stuck his foot in it by missing the mark on your critically important social issue. Have you and all your friends’ blogs and websites suggest that everyone should cease to support this individual immediately, because he is yesterday’s news and is no longer in tune with the ‘it’ generation. Its OK at this point to sneak in a few ad hominems, because the wave of support has clearly turned in your direction.
    Step 8:
    As soon as the defenders of the high profile person start to suggest that perhaps there is a slight over-reaction, show no mercy. Keep hammering away at how no self-respecting person would ever support anyone but YOU and YOUR circle of bloggers and web-friends.
    Step 9:
    Hopefully, you have had the foresight to craft all this controversy right before a high profile meeting where all your friends will be in attendance. Ideally, your new enemy should also be present just to make sure that the flames continue to be fanned.
    Step 10:
    You and your friends sit back and count the literally tens and hundreds more comments get posted to your online forum, new facebook friends and twitter followers, and perhaps assist you to generate $100 more a month in online click-through advertising revenue.

  14. Vincent says:

    Thanks for writing so clearly – though you could lose one of our mutual Facebook Friends over this (I’m surprised she hasn’t removed me already).

    From everything I have read I can find no indication that “Elevator Guy” ever heard Rebecca say she was tired and going to sleep.
    If, as you said: “the big problem was that Rebecca had already made her intentions known” then I guess you don’t have a problem with it at all. Good to know.


  15. Vincent says:

    p.s. Elevator Guy didn’t miss the talk, since he said he liked what she said in her talk and wanted to discuss it further over coffee. But he didn’t send her an email saying he wished she would get raped so naturally did not assume he was part of the problem she’d been talking about.

  16. randomactsofreason says:

    Rebecca’s latest post rejects Dawkin – the person, not the argument – because he is a “wealthy old heterosexual white man!” [sic]

    If Dawkins had supported her position, do you suppose she would have dismissed him on the same grounds?

  17. Thanks so much for this, Alison. Unfortunately, like Abbie and me, you’ll probably now be labeled a “gender traitor”. SIGH.

    The Skepchick “Campaign” makes me ill. It’s viciousness and nastiness of the highest degree, and it’s a perfect example of groupthink at its worst. They’re acting in the most irrational, childish, and un-skeptical way possible.

    And let’s call a spade a spade: it’s nothing less than an attempt at character assassination.

    I just can’t grasp how *anyone* who possesses even an ounce of intellect or empathy or skepticism could support what they’re doing.

  18. Red McWilliams says:


    I know Elevator Guy didn’t miss the talk. It was a bit of rhetoric I used to point out the tragic irony in his actions. Less than 12 hours prior, he had attended a talk about respecting women yet here he was being disrespectful to the very person who gave that talk.

    From what I’ve read, EG was part of the group at the bar, though he wasn’t participating in the conversation. Assuming that’s true, there’s no excuse for his behavior. Assuming it’s not true, there’s very little excuse for his behavior.

    And what is it that you guess I don’t have a problem with?

  19. randomactsofreason says:

    It is interesting that the first “letter to Dawkins” that Mindy – on behalf of “we here at Skepchick” as well as “basically all of you” – decides to highlight in her latest post on that site, contains the following, not-at-all hyperbolic, completely substantive and utterly proportional responses to Dawkins (from a commenter, incidentally, who admits to having “paid little attention” to Dawkins or his work or writings before this):

    “I look forward to watching your legacy crash and burn.”

    “my desire for comeuppance is overwhelming.”

    “It is just as satisfying to hear from all the people who will no longer buy your books or attend your lectures or recommend you to their friends. You have become irrelevant in the eyes of many, many people. You are not the first promoter of atheism or the theory of evolution, and you won’t be the last. I guess I should be thanking you, because now it’s clear that you’re not even the best the movement has to offer.

    I hope it was worth it. As you know better than most, you don’t get a second chance.”

    That is just the right letter to promote in the interest of rational dialog, potentially enlightening exploration of complex, emotionally-charged issues, and to represent how critical thinkers approach such matters more thoughtfully than dogmatic, blind believers.

  20. David McKean says:

    Great writing.

    The timing of this emotional conflict may provide an opportunity. Next week is TAM 9, and the JREF organizers have worked hard to provide a gender inclusive conference. Hopefully most attendees will approach this gathering with a desire to engage others in a rational and respectful manner. As human beings, we all will behave in ways that are not always rational or considerate. As adults we can honestly acknowledge this and make an effort to learn and grow. We can disagree without denigrating and devolving into fits of emotional spasms.

    We can act like adults.

    Alison, thank you for setting a good example.

  21. Much appreciated for this article, and for labeling this social episode ‘Elevatorgate.’ A more unfortunate title of ‘Shaftgate’ would no doubt exacerbate the situation.

    Here’s a poem.


    • randomactsofreason says:

      Rhyming “for chat and for coffee”
      with “shtupping and boffing”
      is worthy of no less than an awe-filled “Huzzah”.

  22. Vincent says:

    I’m guessing the most used pickup line at TAM9 will be “do you want to go to my room for coffee?”

  23. Artemis says:


    Thank you for expressing something a lot of people have wanted to express but are being intimidated. The intimidation tactics employed by Ms. Watson and her ‘friends’ have reminded me of the Bill O’Reilly, Glen Beck, Rush Limbaugh type tactics so popular on FOX.

    Ms. Watson perhaps stated her feelings, and we could respect that that is how SHE felt… but then she not only allowed others on her blog to exaggerate the incident (without correction), but then encouraged people to go on the attack.

    Her prejudices are worn on her sleeve – she hates older men (so how does she feel about white older women?). Yet, she contributes absolutely nothing – her name is known among some atheists… but that’s about it. I have to wonder, is it really white older males she hates – or is she simply jealous that some people have worked hard and have earned a successful career.

    She talks of Dawkins being privileged… yes, like most Western individuals did grow up with privileges that others have not enjoyed. But that does nothing to negate the fact that he has spent his life working to explain science to millions of individuals (was he so privileged that his books have written themsevles?). He has both donated and raised money for many organizations – including many in the Secular community (I do wonder where all those organization leaders are now – those leaders who have looked to Dawkins for support and have received his generosity).

    Dawkins fame is far greater outside the secular community – and he could easily command six figures for lectures to private organizations – yet, he takes time to attend conferences without asking for honorariums, speaks at universities around the world, and has been a strong advocate for science, critical thinking, atheism and the eradication of religious privilege.

    It is said that there are two types of people: builders and destroyers. The former are those people who believe that by contributing to the wealth of knowledge the world will be a better place. The later are those who enjoy destroying people in order to promote themselves. It is very clear as to which group Dawkins belongs in and which one Ms. Watson falls into.

    Again, thank you Alison… and it is a terrible tragedy that Ms. Watson et al. have created an environment of hate, anger and destruction to the point that the majority of people are too intimidated to speak out.

    And by the way, I am female, I did not grow up privileged but I am older, and I have traveled on my for the past 35 years. Despite some bad experiences (including having a knife placed to my throat when I was 14 years old) – I have lived my life believing that most people are good – and don’t assume the worst of them.

    Richard, if you happen to read this blog – Please do NOT be discouraged by the new know-nothings who prefer to destroy others to promote themselves. You have given so much to science, critical thinking and atheism – your work really is appreciated!

  24. Sean says:

    Thank you for writing this. You cleared up quite a bit.

  25. This isn’t the first time Rebecca has rallied the hordes… remember Lawrence Krauss? I wrote a parody () of her post on that “issue” a while ago.

    Evidently, the formula works.

  26. hazza says:

    What alot of people seem to be forgetting is the context, I saw this as a post on skepchick, it flips the situation:

    Imagine that Dr. Dawkins gives a talk at a convention on atheism and spends a great deal of time talking about how many people prefer not be proselytized to by religious people once it is discovered they are atheists. After the talk, he spends some time talking and having drinks with other convention goers about the same topic. One person sits quietly and never speaks to Dr. Dawkins. Dr. Dawkins mentions he is tired and would like to go to his room. The quiet person follows Dr. Dawkins onto the elevator. Once the door closes, the person turns to Dr. Dawkins and says “Don’t take this the wrong way, but have you considered taking Jesus Christ as your personal savior? I think you’re an intelligent, good person who could be a shining light in my church if you just open up your mind to the Lord. Would you like to come up to my room and take a look at some literature?” This person is not necessarily threatening, but Dr. Dawkins doesn’t know if that person could be a religious fanatic bent on harming him. Really, he’s just more annoyed by the rudeness and cluelessness of the individual, but the potential for danger is there, as well. He politely declines the offer.

    After the conference, Dr. Dawkins makes a video where he casually mentions the incident and says that this was really quite rude, and religious people should not do that. He mentions that being proselytized to is irritating to him at all times, but in that particular situation, it was especially annoying and bound not to work. Others hear the story and add that the situation could have been perceived as threatening as well.

    Another atheist/skeptical leader writes a blog post expressing his or her support of Dawkins and advising people not to corner strangers in elevators as a “sales” tactic for their beliefs. Some other leader in the movement, someone who should be on Dr. Dawkins’s side, perhaps Chris Mooney or Phil Plait (sorry to both of them for using them as an example, but they have expressed “be nice” philosophy, so they work here), comments on the post and says that Dr. Dawkins should shut up and stop complaining because people in other countries are murdered and tortured in the name of religion, while Dawkins was merely talked to on an elevator.

    I would think that Dr. Dawkins would be quite annoyed at having his perfectly reasonable complaint both attacked and dismissed as though he were belittling the brutal victimization of other people in the name of religion simply because he dared to casually mention one religious person’s creepy rudeness.

    • S. says:

      That’s not quite the right analogy. Rebecca was not even clearly hit upon, she was politely invited to have coffee, I think the guy actually said- from what she told us about it- that he found her interesting. Now I am not a native English speaker, but at best it sounds like he was expressing subtle interest in discussion with her, in a polite and civil way. But even if she took it as being hit on by the guy, so what? It’s not exactly molesting, it’s not exactly rude, actually far from it. Let’s talk about sexism, but let’s do it in a sensible way, where every person who expresses interest of any kind is not automatically considered a creep and potential rapist.

      The more this whole debate goes on, the more I think people need to re-read Dawkins’ first comment on PZ’s blog: what he is saying is that there is real institutionalised sexism and shauvinism and it makes it nearly impossible for us to tackle it, when we get so outraged by a guy aproaching a woman in an elevator.

  27. briancarnell says:

    Dawkins seems to be sucking all of the air out of the room. But what’s interesting is that what Watson is doing to Dawkins is exactly what Stef McGraw complained that Watson did to her:

    “Watson delivered a keynote speech on the religious right’s war against women. Before she got to her main content, though, she decided to address sexism in the secular movement, which she views as a rampant problem. I shared her disgust as she showed screenshots of people online calling her demeaning names, making comments about her appearance, and, worst of all, making rape comments.

    Then, switching gears, Watson made a remark to the extent that there are people in our own community who would not stand up for her in these sorts of situations; my name, organization, and a few sentences from my blog post then flashed on the screen before my eyes. She went on to explain how I didn’t understand what objectification meant and was espousing anti-woman sentiment.”

    Frankly, the concern I have is not whether Watson is right or wrong but rather that disagreeing with her on this, however mildly, is tantamount to being a misogynist who could care less whether women are raped and sexually abused.

    I thought McGraw’s comments did betray a bit of naivete, and Dawkins comments were idiotic and fallacious (your mileage may vary). But in “the Privilege Delusion,” Watson eschews pointing out the logical errors in favor of the nebulous concept of ‘privilege.’

    Watson’s entire approach seems to be to enforce a “you’re either with us or with the rapists” false dichotomy that is very disturbing to see being played out with such vitriol.

  28. Vincent says:

    That might have worked hazza except there was more to it. Perhaps if Dawkins were ethnically Jewish and had said “It makes me uncomfortable when an anti-Semite targets me because I’m ethnically Jewish” and all of the subsequent posts went on about how proselytizing in elevators is anti-Semitic and anti-Semites sometimes turn to violence and therefore Dawkins would have been perfectly justified in being afraid for his life against such clearly anti-Semitic behavior.

    Then of course anyone who said “He was just approaching you because he’s evangelical and you’re an atheist. That’s not anti-Semitic” would also be deemed an anti-Semite (even if they were Jewish) and that because they are not Jewish they are speaking from Gentile Privilege and thus are completely incapable of understanding anti-Semitism.

  29. drbuzz0 says:

    Who is posting as “friendofbuzz0”?

    I can only guess someone from my blog or maybe facebook who followed my link over here and usually does not run in these circles.

  30. SylviaB says:

    “Part of the problem”, indeed! We skeptics should always aim to be “part of the problem” of people who promote unexamined assumptions. You go girl!

  31. I posted a similar blog in reference to the whole embarrassing episode:

    The comments I was getting actually merited a follow-up post (first for me):

    Glad to see there are some other women in this movement willing to talk some sense.

  32. Friendofbuzz0 says:


    Don’t worry – we have actually met at more than one conference, previously. I will explain to you my choice of posting name here later. I assure you that there is nothing nefarious going on. Presumably you will be at TAM9? If so, I will say ‘hello’ to you there.

  33. atheotes says:

    I think this is a pretty solid post that addresses some angles of this “controversy’ that have yet to be covered. Setting aside the elevator guy “sexualization” claim, there was nothing remarkable about the original video posted by Watson or the events she described, so it is unsurprising that many people are confused as to why the issue has garnered the attention that it has. Unfortunately this is one of those “only on the Internet” situations where meaningful discussion becomes impossible because no one is even sure what the other side is arguing by day five.

    While Dawkins comments were rude and somewhat misdirected, his larger point was correct. If he had taken the time to formulate a more coherent response, we’d probably have all moved on from this. The main point of the original thread he was responding to at PZ’s blog was regarding whether or not it was appropriate for RW to “name names” during her keynote speech at CFI. Unfortunately I think PZ, in a rush to defend a friend, missed the more salient reason why people felt RW’s actions were unprofessional and unbecoming of the keynote speaker. My understanding is that RW used the platform to insinuate to everyone in attendance, including the hapless and no doubt mortified McGraw, that SM’s attitude was emblematic of the anti-feminist/misogynistic atmosphere permeating these conferences. I actually think that is being more fair to RW than she deserves, as first and second-hand accounts (I’ve not personally seen videos or transcript) suggest that RW mentioned SM in nearly the same breath as anonymous trolls sending hateful emails threatening violent sexual assault.

    Was Dawkins responding to RW’s overreaction to criticism by fellow feminist Stef McGraw? That seems to be a more reasonable interpretation of the major thrust of his comments than just a desire to express contempt for the personal discomfort of a fellow human being. At the very least, I think it reasonable to suspect that he was criticising the phenomenon of how a minor spat between two bloggers negatively impacted CFI. Unfortunately, this is just my interpretation of his motives as his own words simply are not that clear. I cannot be too upset at people who see insensitivity in his remarks, even if RW’s encounter really was a non-event (or, “zero bad”, as he put it).

    Much is being made of male privilege in the discussion that doesn’t quite make sense to me. I’m willing to accept that males occupy a privileged place in western societies, and that it is possible to have reasoned discussions about how that negatively impacts women. But if we are to assume that all males have this privilege, and that the best we can do is to be made aware of it and moderate our behaviour to eliminate its most pernicious influences, then where does the vitriol from RW’s side spring from? Is it really necessary to boycott the Dawkins’ entire body of work because of this? The response again seems disproportionate to the offence. Assuming that this is an example of male privilege (not my argument, but I’m willing to grant it), is there no sympathy to be found for a man who on the whole has done great works to promote science, feminist issues, and the betterment of mankind as a whole?

    One of the other comments in this thread or another made an astute observation that Dawkins’ behaviour towards RW was largely analogous to how Watson treated McGraw. While I may not agree entirely with this, I think it is true in part. Dawkins is a well-respected figure and role model in the scientific, skeptic, and atheist communities and he should realise that poorly thought out criticisms of another member of that community has the potential to kick up a huge storm of shit. If there is a lesson to be take from this, I’d hope it would be that moderation of discourse is important, especially when there are differences within communities that share common values.

  34. AllanW says:

    Thank you for those refreshingly rational and reasonable thoughts so clearly articulated.

  35. drbuzz0 says:

    So after some exhaustive researching, including many hours spent on Google news archive, I’ve been able to find VERY VERY VERY FEW examples of someone being raped on a hotel elevator.

    I’ve found several cases (not a lot considering I’m talking about many years of time) of rapes on elevators, but they’re almost always somewhere relatively secluded. For example, parking garages, subway stations and such, generally at night when there are few around. A few also happened in apartment buildings or office buildings, again, usually at times of the day or night where there are very few people around and using the elevator.

    A hotel elevator is basically a public location, and affords a potential rapist a very poor opertunity to rape someone. There have been a couple of examples of hotel elevator muggings. Someone rides the elevator looking for a victim, pulls a knife, grabs a purse or wallet, gets off (often on the ground floor) and bolts. A couple of incidents have happened on service elevators or in elevator cars that were out of service in the basement.

    But a person getting into an elevator at a hotel and just randomly rapind a woman in there?

    I found two examples so far. One happened in 1989 at the Hilton in Chichago. Another assault, which was basically groping and possibly attempted rape, happened at a Omni Hotel in Washington DC in 2002. There was a reported rape in a Florida hotel’s elevator last year, but it was a bit more complicated than that. It seems it was basically a case of an intoxicated women being brought back to her room (basically carried due to her state) by three men who took advantage of her state in the elevator. There was also a case at the Marriot in Boston in 2009 of a sexual assault in an elevator, but again, much different circumstances. A mentally unstable man entered the hotel and seems to have harrassed and assaulted more than one individal, including at least one incident in an elevator before being aprehended.

    This is an EXTREME rarity.

    I’d be more worried about being hit by lightning.

    I realize that it’s a common fear, but this is not how rape happens. It’s like people being murdered by some unknown assaliant breaking into their home and slitting their throat at night. Despite the fact that that is one of the most commonly feared forms of murder, it’s all but unheard of actually happening.

  36. AllanW says:

    Dara O’Briain deals with irrational fears in a humerous manner in the first thirty seconds or so of this clip;


    Watch the rest of that clip as well because he’s funny but he makes vivid the essential problem that Alison touched upon but I’d make even more starkly; whose problem is it if someone is irrationally fearful? And what is a reasonable response to an irrational fear?

  37. AllanW says:

    *humorous* DOH!

  38. itzac says:

    Well written, and level-headed, Allison. I quite enjoyed it.

    My only disagreement (and it’s a minor one) is in the discussion of sexism. I don’t think it’s fair to call that kind of awkward come-on explicitly or overtly sexist, but as others have pointed out, it is more likely the result of a pervasive subtle sexism. Would EG have felt as comfortable crossing a similar boundary in his interactions with a man? I doubt it. He probably never even considered that such a boundary might exist because a guy in our culture can grow up without ever being taught to think about it. But for the hubbub that has since erupted, pointing this out to him would likely have been taken gratefully as a lesson.

    I should know, I am a recovering creep. I’ve always been a geek and I almost never interacted with girls I wasn’t related to when I was growing up. I was laughably clueless. It’s only since meeting feminists within the atheist and skeptical movements and listening to them talk about these issues that I’ve learned to improve the way I interact with women, and it’s been to my benefit.

  39. drbuzz0 says:

    There are some things men simply do not understand (based on what the blag hag and others have told us):

    Being a woman is a terrifying experience. Women have to worry about being raped 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Statistics show that at least 75 percent of the men a woman encounters will attempt to rape her in a given day. For a woman, death is often seen as a kind of relief from a lifetime spent worrying about being raped.

    As men, we don’t get this. We don’t understand what it is like to live in a constant state of absolutely paralyzing fear. We don’t know what it is like when more than 50% of the population you encounter is a threat. Imagine if you walked around a world where 50% of the population were grizzly bears about to rip your face off and every day you just had to try to dodge their ferociously sharp claws.

    That’s what it’s like to be a woman. But we can’t understand that. We should, however, be very ashamed of ourselves, because we’re men and don’t realize how horrible being a woman is.

    If you’re a white male then your opinions don’t matter, because clearly you can’t identify with anyone else in the world and you’re the root of every evil that has ever been purported. DON’T YOU DARE EVEN COMMENT ON ANYTHING ABOUT RAPE OR VIOLENCE OR ANYTHING EVER BECAUSE YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND!

    Remarkably, others do know what you understand and don’t. People like the blag hag do understand what it’s like to be a man and what it’s like to not know. It seems like a paradox to even think that they could know what you know and don’t know. Well, it’s not, and if you disagree, well, you’re already a rapist.

    Now a problem faced by most men: the elevator.

    Getting on an elevator with a woman is a problem because if you say anything, then this will be translated as “I plan on raping you.” The obvious answer would be not to say anything. Sadly standing there stonefaced and not showing any interest can also be considered creepy and thus proves you are planning on raping her.

    So what do you do? Avoid taking an elevator with a woman? Seems logical, but unfortunately it’s not always possible. Many places don’t let you use the stairs unless it’s an emergency (even going into the stairwell will trigger an alarm)

    Sure, you could just not get on an elevator with a woman, but what if she gets on with you? If you’re on the ground floor, the obvious thing to do is run away screaming “I’m so sorry! I don’t want to rape you!”

    But what if you are on another floor? Lets say you are staying on the 10th floor in a hotel and are going down to the lobby. Suddenly the door opens on the 5th floor and a woman gets on. What do you do? You can’t get off because you are not staying on the 5th floor and getting off on a floor that is not yours only proves you were planning on raping someone.

    Try one of these tactics to defuse the terror that the woman feels toward you:

    1. Announce that you have severe erectile dysfunction that does not respond to medication and thus could not rape her even if you wanted to. Go on to explain that, while you could still sexually assault her in an other manner, that you are also gay and thus would not want to.

    2. Tell her that you’re on your way to rape someone but it’s not her. Since she already knows you are planning on committing rape, this should ease her mind by assuring her that she is not the intended victim.

    3. Bring a loaded gun with you. As soon as a woman gets on, take out the gun and hand it to her (holding it by the barrel). Explain to her that you want her to feel safe and know you won’t rape her, so you’re giving her the gun and that way if you start to try to rape her, she can shoot and kill you.

    4. Take out a knife and begin slashing your flesh. Explain to the woman that “You probably thought I was going to rape you. Well how can I n0w? How can I possibly subdue you? I’m severely injured and in terrible pain from these stab wounds. I’m loosing blood so fast I’m about to pass out. There’s no way I could be physically capable of raping you in this horribly injured state.”

    5. Cross dress and try to look like a convincing woman. Don’t overdo it and be a drag queen. You want to look convincing. Hopefully you can pass as being a woman and she won’t think you are trying to rape her.

    6. Attempt to disguise yourself as a trash can or luggage cart. More than 33% of women are less afraid of being raped by such inanimate objects than by a man.

    7. If all else fails, you can appeal to her by explaining that your reputation is important to you and you don’t want to be accused of rape. Start giving her hundreds of dollars and get down on your knees and weep pleading “This is all I have. I can’t afford to lose my job. I can’t afford to pay for a lawyer. I can’t have my family disown me. Please, can you please not accuse me of trying to rape you”

    Note: Number 7 will only work about 25% of the time, so use it as a last resort.

    If all else fails, you can just admit it and hope this will make the sentence more lenient. Just say to her “Okay, we both know I’m here to rape you, so lets just get this over with. I’ll go ahead and give you my ID and you can go call the police. I’ll sit in the lobby and wait to be arrested. I’m very sorry that I did this to you, even though I haven’t actually done anything. Please, all I ask is that you tell the authorities I did cooperate with the investigation. I hope they may some day let me be a free man again, but I know I don’t deserve that.”

  40. monoman says:


    Don’t take this the wrong way, but I find your blog post very interesting. Would you like to come back to my place for a 3 day old cobb salad?


    Great post btw.

  41. innertubes says:

    Allison, great thoughtful article. Still though, I think the perpetrator should be brought to justice. Therefore, I have commissioned a website dedicated to that end. Won’t you help us catch the Coffee Crusader? http://skepchickelevatorhunt.wordpress.com/about/

  42. stealthbadger says:

    Well said. I posted a YouTube video quietly, politely ranting from much the same starting points; it’s gotten the mixed reception you’d expect. 😀

    If y’all are interested: “The Inner Badger (quietly) addresses RKWatson, Dawkins, McGraw, and oh yeah, PZ Myers.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5EOm8fMzUu4

    /rant on

    What amazes me is that often – not always, but often – when trying to convince a white guy to join “Team Watson,”* the tactic of first resort is to try pushing one of the following “Stereotypical Older Opinionated White Guy Emotional Buttons:” Homophobia (what if he had hit on YOU?), Sexual insecurity (What if a woman had sexualized YOU?), Fear of uppity women (What if a woman had asked YOU to go up to a hotel room at 4am?”**), and Fear of Weakness (“What if someone bigger than YOU was trying to get you to go somewhere in an elevator?”***). I have empathy, and I have personal problems – those may be some of them, but they’re not as big as you think they are. Like most of the people who refuse to wage holy war in this matter, the position I’m at is one I take because this jihad makes no sense.

    /rant off

    I will say that in my unwanted opinion, Stef McGraw, Abbie , Miranda Celeste, you and others are wonderful for handling this as you have – especially Stef for handling being called out WHILE THERE IN PERSON, in the audience with such grace under pressure, and restraining herself when expressing her side of the story – VERY eloquently.

    * I have nothing but contempt for the “Watson should have taken the ‘offer’ and liked it” crowd as well.
    ** The person asking this particular question invariably has never been to many (or any) conventions.
    *** As the name badger might imply, MOST people are taller and many are larger than I am. 😛

  43. Ian@viator says:

    I come late to this, and 12 time zones away, but, here are my thoughts. Clearly, the man concerned was not a smooth mf, but the severity of his guilt is determined by how he acted. Was he tired, late at night, horny, willing to roll the dice and see what happened? If so, not a smooth mf, but not a criminal. Or, did he come on way too strong, and act in a threatening way? If so, he deserves all the bagging he gets.

    Context: This reminded me of the 80s (yes, I am in my 50s, old white guy). In the 80s I attended any number of academic conferences in Australia. And lots of sex was had. Lots of short term ‘hookups’. I remember approaching women in elevators, and elsewhere, with a measure of success, but I do not recall ever causing anyone panic. Conversely, I was hit on a few times (more than a few actually). Sounds great, but some of these women were way older than me, not that attractive, but were in positions of power in the academic world. My point? I am not sure, but this issue is not about feminism as such, but about curtesy, and being a smooth mf, and being aware that this ‘problem’ goes both ways.

    I do enjoy the skepchick posts, and will continue to do so.

  44. AllanW says:

    @ drbuzzO

    Thanks for spelling out your basis of support here;

    ‘Being a woman is a terrifying experience. Women have to worry about being raped 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Statistics show that at least 75 percent of the men a woman encounters will attempt to rape her in a given day. For a woman, death is often seen as a kind of relief from a lifetime spent worrying about being raped. ‘

    I’m interested in reading those statistics that are so influential in forming your views so please link, copy or tell me where I can read them for myself. Thanks.

  45. AllanW says:

    Ah! Sorry. As you were 🙂

  46. moralnihilist says:

    Alison left out one important detail: the guy knew she was tired and was going to bed. He pursued her into the elevator anyway with an utter lack of disregard for her desires. They had no prior contact, and his first words to her was an invitation to his bedroom (because after all, isn’t that what a hotel room is?) for “coffee.” If he had said “hey I find you very interesting and I’d like to talk about this more, want to meet me this afternoon in the lobby for coffee?” Ms. Watson probably wouldn’t have said anything about it.

    The second detail Alison conveniently left out is that the “elevator rape in a hotel” scenario is very real. It’s happened, and when it’s happened it’s started exactly like Rebecca’s scenario. She obviously wasn’t in danger and didn’t feel that way. She was annoyed because even though this guy knew she wasn’t interested, he pursued anyway. The problem here isn’t the sexualization so much as it is the lack of respect.

    But, as many have said, nobody is saying this guy did the right thing here. And Alison did point out that initially it wasn’t that big of a deal to Rebecca. But she forgets to point out that the larger community made it a big deal by blowing it way out of proportion, implying that Ms. Watson was wrong to feel the way she did, as if for some reason she isn’t entitled to her feelings.

    That, right there, is the problem: the idea that Rebecca didn’t have the right to feel a little bit creeped out, the idea that she didn’t have the right to complain, that she shouldn’t have felt the way she felt. That is where the feminist issue comes in. Granted, not every feeling is a rational one. But in this case, Rebecca had previously received threats of rape, she was being pursued into an elevator, a scenario which has, multiple times, resulted in rape, and she felt….a little bit annoyed. And the atheist/skeptical community’s response? “How DARE you!”

    Alison also commits the “I am the world” fallacy in this article. She says “But I can’t REALLY be mad about that. Because I do eventually want someone to remove my panties, and at some point that topic has to come up in conversation.” Good for you. But just because that’s what you want doesn’t mean that’s what everybody wants and it doesn’t mean everybody should assume everyone is like you.

  47. moralnihilist says:

    drbuzz0, why don’t you cite the claims your making directly? Please provide a blog post in which Jen McCreight has said women live in fear of rape 24/7 or anything to that effect. Oh, you can’t? Well, nice straw man, anyway.

  48. drbuzz0 says:

    Read her post. That’s pretty much what she says and that’s what others imply quite strongly “Men can’t understand” how women have to fear rape.

  49. drbuzz0 says:


    “The second detail Alison conveniently left out is that the “elevator rape in a hotel” scenario is very real. It’s happened, and when it’s happened it’s started exactly like Rebecca’s scenario. She obviously wasn’t in danger and didn’t feel that way. She was annoyed because even though this guy knew she wasn’t interested, he pursued anyway. The problem here isn’t the sexualization so much as it is the lack of respect.”

    Please point out even ONE example that has the same MO has here and actually happened for real. IE: Guy peruses a woman in elevator and then rapes her when she declines.

    Seriously… even ONE example.

    The most publicized incident of a hotel elevator rape happened nothing like that – the one that occurred in 1989. The closest I could find EVER happening occurred at the Omni in Washington DC, but again, it was not really the same – In that case, a woman met a man at the bar who later assaulted her in the lobby and pushed her into the elevator.

    The second closest happened in Pittsburgh earlier this year at the airport Hyatt, but again, it’s not the same MO at all.

    So please, enlighten me. I mean, hell, I must be pretty crappy at finding these things, since according to you they are a real threat.

    So lets see you cite one.

  50. edic chortu says:

    I missed my stop on the uptown subway (96th Street on the #2) at 2 am as I had had a bit too much to drink that evening. Suddenly I found myself at 110th street (yes in HARLEM) and everyone else on the sparsely populated subway car was gasp african american. I was able to keep my cool but of course know the criminality that is so common in this neighborhood and among these people and was sweating on the inside. Hey, I have many friends who are dark in color and of course know that many of them are decent people. But that doesn’t make me any less scared when I am in this situation.

    And this guy, one of them, came up to me. Just walked right up to me. And smiled. And asked me if I needed directions or something. But perhaps he was really trying to see if I was lost so he could take advantage of me. Take my money, maybe hit me, maybe rape me or kill me.

    I said no thanks and got out the next stop and fortunately caught the downtown right away at 125th. But damn didn’t he realize how uncomfortable that made me?

    Seriously, don’t do that, Negroes.

  51. DRBUZZ0ismylover says:

    I’m a guy, but I understand the point Rebecca is trying to make. Hitting on someone is OK, but don’t do it if you are just meeting the girl for the first time at 4:00 am on an elevator in a foreign country.

    I won’t be hitting on Rebecca at TAM 9, mostly because she is not my type (see my user name for who is).

  52. costello says:

    I’m probably going to get raked over the coals for this (if anyone even bothers to respond) but there’s a lot about this whole hullabaloo that bothers me immensely.

    First, I don’t think this an issue of feminism. I don’t think it’s an issue of making women feel unwelcome in the skeptical community. I don’t think it’s a problem with men. I don’t think this is an “issue.” This is human behavior. Some people are gifted with good social graces and incredible amounts of tact, and that’s great. Other people? Not so much. Is it SO MUCH of a stretch to imagine that there was no ill will, no bad intent, and the guy is just absolutely clueless about what he was implying? Even if he did for some reason think that Rebecca would be interested in hooking up with a guy she’s never met before, is there really that much harm in bringing it up? Rebecca herself emphasized the bluntness and brevity of the conversation – if what she reported being said to her was all that was said, where’s the implied threat? Tactless, yes. Threatening, scary, misogynist? I really think that’s a stretch.

    I guess I just fail to see the difference between, you know… this incident or a drunk cougar at a bar hitting on a college student. It’s not as much scary as it is inappropriate. It’s not so much sexist as it is tactless. Is a woman at a bar who cozies up against a guy who may not be interested in her at all because she’s had a few too many drinks sexist? Does she not respect men? No, she’s intoxicated, her guard is down, and she’s not making a great decision. Chances are, the next day, she’ll regret her behavior. Chances are good this individual in the elevator most certainly did. Yes, I get that the incident happened on an elevator, but you were leaving a bar. It was a poor choice of location but no different of a situation. Had he followed her to her room or something, then we would have something to talk about – but by the sound of things, after Rebecca declined his “offer” the issue dropped and that was it.

    I’m further upset about the backlash Dawkins has received for his remarks. I don’t think anyone would argue that Dawkins means harm, or lacks respect for the feminist movement or women, though perhaps his language was a bit strong. Why waste the energy and the stage time for the feminist movement on something so pointless? Yes, it’s terrible that Rebecca was put in an awkward situation. It’s a shame that some people are incapable of perhaps gauging interest from someone else (though a few beers never helped in that sort of situation, either) but it’s not a systematic problem. There are serious issues in gender equality that should be addressed – trying to start a movement against awkward neckbeards seems almost trivial.

    This issue could have easily been dealt with with a response to the individual in question and nothing more.

  53. Vincent says:

    Am I alone in thinking moralnihilist’s statement is self-contradictory?

    “the guy knew she was tired and was going to bed. . . . They had no prior contact”

    If they had no prior contact, how did he know she was tired and going to bed?

  54. bluharmony says:

    Costello, you’re absolutely right. I’m a woman, and I can’t count how many times I’ve been propositioned while leaving bars. And even if EG’s intent was sexual it’s not exactly a stretch that a woman who stays at a bar alone until 4 AM wants to hook up. She was, according to her own words, talking to people and EG heard her say she’s tired and wants to go to bed. But that’s what I always say when I want to remove myself from a social situation. I don’t say, “I’m starting to get bored, so I’m going now.” That would be rude.

    And yes, the no prior contact/hearing she wants to go to bed thing is completely inconsistent. I’m starting to think that the whole thing is just a traffic-generating publicity stunt. The attacks on Dawkins and a CFI student who dared to criticize Rebecca were immense, and she’s acting a little too defensive. Likening this to rape or predatory behavior is ridiculous, and utterly embarrassing to those of us who have been working for equal rights our whole lives (and who have actually been raped, like me). There are real issues of discrimination, there are real sexual assaults, there are wage gaps, there are all sorts of causes to fight for. But this? This was “zero bad.” It makes atheists and skeptics look STOOPID as hell.

  55. tonyryan says:

    Excellent post. I hope you don’t mind, but I quoted it here:

    with reference to you of course!

  56. coralius says:

    bluharmony, can you link to the place where Rebecca Watson is “Likening this to rape…”? I’ve seen a lot of people say she’s doing that and I’ve been looking for it, and can’t seem to find it.

    I’d really like to see that for myself before I make up my mind on this.


  57. bluharmony says:

    @Coralius: Overtly, she’s not. She’s calling it objectification. But I fail to see how telling a woman that she’s interesting and asking her for some private time (after saying “don’t take this the wrong way”) is objectification. Even in a hotel. Even in an elevator. How else would a guy who’s afraid of public rejection get to know Rebecca? I am unable to automatically assume that he meant something different. I can’t leap to that conclusion without being a mind-reader, and I’m not a mind reader. I can’t even assume that EG exists, given that absolutely no one but Rebecca has seen him. Nor can I assume that he’s an atheist or that he saw her presentation or that he heard her say she was tired. What basis do I have to draw these conclusions? One person’s anecdotal account? In 2008 (or thereabouts) Rebecca was banned from the JREF forums for sock puppetry, messing with other accounts by deleting and inserting offensive text, and deleting two people she didn’t like without basis, while she had admin privileges. She’s not exactly a trustworthy source, and this incident has drawn incredible attention to her blog. I’m not saying that she’s lying, but under the circumstances, I can’t completely dismiss the possibility.

    Rebecca likens this to rape by discussing this incident in the same breath as she does her rape threats. And others are likening it to attempted rape on her behalf. The new far left fems are calling EG Schrodinger’s rapist, which is the concept that every man is both a rapist and not a rapist. (I assume everyone can see why that’s a logical fallacy.) They’re saying Rebecca was threatened and harassed. Dawkins was criticized because because there are incidents of elevator rape, and elevators (usually those in dark empty garages) are not very safe. What’s the threat? Rape, they say. The entire discussion has become about rape when all we have, at worst, is a clumsy proposition. And Rebecca has certainly played a part in making this happen.

    I don’t think you can combine radical feminism and skepticism in the way Rebecca is trying to do. Radical feminism is largely based on logical fallacies and doesn’t comport with skeptical thinking. But people don’t seem to realize this, and that makes me genuinely upset.

  58. Lee Myers says:

    Thank you. We men aren’t allowed to speak on this issue, ya know, cause we’re all rapist endorsing misogynists if we disagree with Watson. Feminism used to be about equality but it seems for the past twenty years or so there’s been an extremist element thriving within feminism that makes the label itself undesirable even for most women. That kind of extremist irrational feminism is not compatible with skepticism, and it’s nice to be reminded that isn’t every woman’s brand of feminism. Thank you for a well reasoned, logical and articulate perspective from a woman.

  59. tonyryan says:

    An update on this, and some good points raised by Dr. Jean Kazez. She puts Watson’s agenda into context and explains, maybe, why Dawkins lacks empathy for her.
    http://coffeelovingskeptic.com/?p=768 (the 2nd video is the shorter one)

  60. justanegalitarian says:

    This is a great analysis of the issue. I think one of the reasons it became such a firestorm is that you, as a woman, can more comfortably say these things, whereas a man with an identical or equally reasoned opinion on the subject runs the risk of being labelled any number of things. That in itself says an awful lot about the undue influence of radical feminism, which doesn’t strive for equality, but for power. It’s also why lots of women for whom equal rights, equal pay, etc. are absolutely non-negotiable are uncomfortable with calling themselves feminists.

    If we lived in a society in which a man or a woman could comment on this issue with equal comfort, there’d be far fewer accusations of sexism flying around. Then again, in such a society, this wouldn’t even be a debate.

  61. Stanley says:

    “What bothers me is that people think this is a feminist issue when, really, it’s a human issue.”

    Thank you very much indeed for saying that! It is exactly what I’d been thinking as I learnt more about the issue and, as I read your article with my respect for you ticking slowly upward, it reached a pinnacle when you made that comment.

    And you’re absolutly right in another area: part of my awkwardness in saying it or even thinking it was that I’m a man. I felt like I really didn’t have the authority to make judgements on what is and isn’t a feminist issue, so to hear (or read) that a woman feels the same way is very reassuring.

    Thanks again 🙂

  62. ms feminist says:

    ‘This was “zero bad.” It makes atheists and skeptics look STOOPID as hell’

    there speaks the misogynist mra troll apologist who gets embarassed with real feminism. btw bluharmony is actually a heterosexxxxxxxxxism man. btw the word is spelt stupid: whats the matter cant spell your own name

  63. Karl Johanson says:

    @ moralnihilist, who said: “Alison left out one important detail: the guy knew she was tired and was going to bed. He pursued her into the elevator anyway with an utter lack of disregard for her desires. They had no prior contact, and his first words to her was an invitation to his bedroom (because after all, isn’t that what a hotel room is?) for “coffee.” ”

    So elevator guy simultaneously had had no prior contact with her AND somehow knew she was tired and going to bed and what her desires were. Psychic maybe? Randi Challenge time!

  64. Victor Sago says:

    This Watson chick seems to be one of those people who find gratification in being (or playing) The Victim. Unfortunately, in this, she’s with the majority of the population.

  65. Henk v on the road! says:

    Jeez, If I was Rebecca I’d already feel mortally offended for being the last cab this guy may have been trying to score all night.

    Call me refined white dinosaur, but the guy was more than just a little bit creepy or insanely unfortunate in his makeup.

    A guy of an age to be propositioning women at elevators late at night should have honed his creep response.

    If a guy is so unfortunate to be feckless by that age and just happens to say all the wrong things at all the wrong times, he shouldnt be going to conferences.

    No matter how the thing may feel to you or I, I would have expected my daughter to let him know a bit more firmly.

    But it is an issue. A young lady was harrassed. When such charges are brought to security or police they would take a dim view of the events.

    It’s Rebecca’s job to bring up issues like this, to write about it and show some activism on the matter. I think Richard could have afforded some more eloquence and said that “Yes, men were evolved to be the insecure half of the hairless ape genus”.

    What sort of a moron could be that innocently feckless at that time of night??? Surely if someone behaved like that in all innocence, his mother would have been beside him..

  66. peter says:

    But it is an issue. A young lady was harrassed. When such charges are brought to security or police they would take a dim view of the events.

    WTF??? A poor guy extending an unwanted invitation to a woman – ONE time – constitutes “harassment”? Would it be “harassment” if she had said yes? You are correct that the police would “take a dim view of the events” – if Ms Watson had reported this “incident” to the police they would be pissed off at having their time wasted with such utter nonsense.

  67. It’s shit like this, Skeptic movement.

    If anything is to be learned from this, it’s that men shouldn’t ask women (at 4 am no less) to their HOTEL ROOM for a first-time encounter.

    Any smart man would not do this, and any smart woman would not say yes to this.

    You want to “talk” to a girl you’re interested in in a hotel at 4 am, that’s fine. GO TO THE CAFE. GO TO THE BAR. GO TO THE GODDAMNED LOBBY. Go where there are other people. Don’t go thinking you’re just the most hunky-dory nice guy in existence for not wanting sex, but, hey, let’s go into my fucking hotel room anyway!

    It’s pretty simple, and I’m pretty goddamned tired of being manslpained why she’s a “fucking bitch.”

  68. Anonymous says:

    *eyeroll* I can’t believe people still give a damn about this one. The moment we give guys a .pdf about how to hit on women at birth, everybody can bitch. Until then, however, there will be people who are awkward. Just as we are.

  69. Anon says:

    You right Alison Smith, I agree with you though I actually think Rebecca Watsons complaint was rather pathetic. How would she feel if no guys tried to ‘hit’ on her . . . ? (bet the daft cow would hate it, lol)
    I heard she responded to the invite to the hotel room for coffee by saying ‘guys don’t do that’, would she have been more inclined to except if he’d asked if she wanted to join him in the bar to watch the football then . . . ?
    By saying ‘guys don’t do that’ she is the one sterotyping the sexes. I’m female and if I get talking to someone or in a situation were someone has given me a lift home or something I often feel rude if I do not at least ask that person (male or female) if they would like a coffee a(i’m not saying this is normal, but it’s how I feel) why should a man have to feel different . . . ?
    He may have found her attractive or he may just have been trying to been friendly, though if he was trying to ‘hit’ on her, I have to say his methods could have been alot worse, maybe she felt uncomfortable because she didn’t know him well enough, but not every woman (or man) would have felt uncomfortable in that situation and you can only ask. I don’t think the guy has anything to be ashamed of . . . .

    Oh, and that ‘rape theat’ to her on the internet is typical of the way lots people get treated or idiots act on the internet when they are anonymous, is it not called ‘trolling’ – you express an opinion different to theirs (or not) and they have a vicious, strong worded, childish rant at you, just because they can. I’m not saying it’s right, but it happens all the time on the internet, and I think she needs a reality check and a thicker skin.

    You get some immature, ignorant, sexist, dafties out there, there will probably always be people like that in the world, but that doesn’t mean all men are sexist and from what she has said about her encounter in the lift, I am not convinced that man was either. Also I belive that the majority of men that either treat women like dirt or like sex objects probably have ways of treating other men badly to – alot of them are probably like that because they are silly and immature (however well educated) . . .

  70. Anon says:

    Theres only one thing worse than being ‘hit on’ and thats not being ‘hit on’ . . .

  71. Pingback: A slightly more temperate post about unwanted contact. « Samizdata

  72. Stephen Propatier says:

    I have followed this story from the beginning. I think this post is a wonderful breakdown of the issues. My opinion of this whole discussion-The original incident complaint was overblown. Dawkins response was childish and over the top.
    Bottom line to me is, men do not understand what it is to be a woman, and vice versa. What has happened in the skeptical community afterwards has been shameful. Rebecca defenders and Dawkins supporters have been over the top. Misogynistic attackers and Anti-Atheist individuals have used this incident to attack Watson verbally and threaten physically. Skeptical feminists have been equally abusive making ridiculous accusations. We(meaning the Skeptical community) need to get past this. For the good of skepticism. Watson, DJ grothe, dawkins, and the Jref need to put this aside. It has become a distraction, a parlor show. A need to Argue something in a community that loves argument. They need to publicly agree to disagree to elevate the discussion from a personal level. For the good of the movement it need to happen. Rebecca “taking her ball and going home” has made her a martyr for some but it has blunted her message. The men involved look like egoistic misogynists. It is not good for skepticism It is polarizing and wasteful. Yes Rebecca has been attacked in a misogynous and personal way from many fronts. Yes her original complaint was overblown and she should not have used such a public one way forum to complain. This is a subjective issue. Like a painting’s appeal, or a photograph. It can be studied but there is no science in the judgement. This is human social conflict and the varying lines of culture, gender, and sexuality. If they cannot learn to back off from this personal battle then maybe they all need to step away and get out of the limelight for a while. Including Grothe.

  73. Pingback: Alison Smith and Rebecca Watson: Partying with Skepchicks Rule 5 | Batshit Crazy News

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