We here at Skepchick – and basically all of you – have been outraged and saddened by the recent comments made by Richard Dawkins on PZ Myers’ blog Pharyngula. If you’re just coming in on this, I won’t get into the details, as you can read them elsewhere, and you can read the offending comments here. Suffice it to say that I, along with many of you, are disappointed that a man of such stature in the community has chosen to belittle the experiences of women. But I’ve also been heartened that so many of you recognize how wrong Dawkins is (just read the comments on Rebecca’s most recent post on the subject if you don’t believe me.) In that post, Rebecca asked you to write letters to Richard Dawkins the explain your disappointment, anger, confusion and disapproval. Some of those letters are published after the jump. And please post your own letters to Richard Dawkins in the comments. **Edit: We will be adding letters as we go, so stay tuned for updates!

***

Dear Richard,

I can call you Richard, right? I hope so. I’ve never been one for formalities. But enough with the pleasantries. You know why I’m here.

In truth, I don’t really know what else I can add to this discussion. I don’t come at this as a particular fan of yours. I have, to myself, questioned the effectiveness of your tactics, but I had to respect your knowledge and passion. Otherwise, I paid little attention.

But now, sir, you have my attention, and I look forward to watching your legacy crash and burn.

I apologize if that sounds mean spirited. Well…maybe not “apologize.” It’s unfortunate. I don’t delight in the desire to see a fellow human being fail. Really! I want everyone to win Wipeout. But your comments on PZ Myer’s blog were so beyond the pale that my desire for comeuppance is overwhelming.

And who wouldn’t be outraged? Not only were your comments dripping with huge gobs of misogyny, but they were vaguely racist. (Come on. Muslima? You and the writers of Avatar should get together and compare notes.) Who are you, man?

You entered this conversation in the most jerk-tastic way possible. You’re Richard Effin’ Dawkins, and you commented on a blog? On a topic that had so little to do with you that no one I know ever said, “Gee, I wonder what Richard Dawkins thinks about this.” And then your comments (the initial one, especially) were so dripping with bile and your own superiority that I was left befuddled and hurt, for myself, my friend and every woman I know.

I’m not trying to silence you in any way. You have a right to your opinion and a right to express that opinion in the manner you see fit. And so does Rebecca. And so does every other woman out there whose feelings and experiences you have invalidated by your obtuse and short-sighted comments. You don’t get to tell people how to feel. You don’t get to tell people that what they experienced was “zero bad.” You are, with all due respect, zero correct in this situation.

I hope you can see why I’m a little spiteful, and I trust that I don’t have to go into any more detail, as other people have provided their thoughtful and articulate insights. From following this on the Internet, it makes me hopeful to see so many people on the side of basic human decency and respect. 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.

Cheers,

Mindy

***

Note: This letter originally appeared on Almost Diamonds.

Dear Dick:

At your request, we write to you to tell you what it is that you do not understand about elevators, invitations, and sexual assault. Who are we, and why are we in any position to tell you anything? We are atheists and skeptics, but more relevantly, we are victims of sexual assault.

There are two important things to note about Rebecca Watson’s experience. The first is that she had spent much of her evening telling the people around her, “Please don’t hit on me,” and finished by saying she was done talking and wanted sleep. This was ignored by the man now widely referred to as Elevator Guy. (Yes, it’s been established that he was in a position to hear her. Yes, it’s been established that he followed her out of the space in which she’d been saying this and got on the elevator with her.)

She had said, by unequivocal implication, “No.” He ignored this and did what he wanted to. This is important.

The second important thing to know is that her response was to say publicly, one more time, “Please don’t do that. It makes me uncomfortable.” That’s it. That was her entire response to Elevator Guy beyond telling him she wouldn’t go to his room.

For that response, Rebecca came under considerable fire. This is also important.

The entire drama-filled discussion came about because Rebecca asserted her right and the right of other women to say, “No,” and be heard. It happened because she asserted that men, as well as women, have a role to play in maintaining that right.

Then you spoke. Then you, widely regarded as one of atheism’s leaders, one of the Four Horsemen, decided you needed to say something about this.

You didn’t have to do that. If you felt, as your comments seem to indicate, that too much attention was being paid to this event, you could have simply declined to add yours.

However, that wasn’t what you did. Instead, you said that Rebecca, who was voicing our concerns, was thereby telling other women with other concerns that they were whining. Or perhaps that the rest of us who supported Rebecca when she was criticized for expressing her preferences were accusing these women of whining.

Even if you had stopped there, this would merit an apology. Not only has Rebecca spoken out loudly against female genital mutilation (drawing the ire of those who told her she wasn’t paying enough attention to the boys) and other religion-driven wrongs against women and girls, but her demand that women’s self-determination be respected is exactly what needs to spread in order to prevent the ills you mention. If this is an issue you care about, instead of a distraction from Rebecca’s point, you should be thanking her for her work instead of emphasizing the “chick” in the name of her organization, diminishing her stature.

Then, in response to complaints about that, you told us all that what happened to Rebecca–having her clearly and repeatedly expressed preferences about being hit on ignored–was “zero bad.” It should be clear by now why that requires a correction from you. It also calls for another apology, whether or not you knew the facts above when you wrote your comment. If you didn’t know, you weren’t in any state to lend your position and reputation to any characterization of what happened, much less the mischaracterization you used.

That is where you injured us, the victims. You have made one more space blatantly unsafe to us. We don’t mean safe as in free from any kind of sexual interest. We’re not asking for that, and we don’t want it. We mean that you, a leader in our community, made free with a woman’s experience and rewrote it to suit your own ends.

You decided you knew better than she did what had happened, and you were comfortable explaining it to everyone else. That is part of how communities are ruined and ultimately shaped to support sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape. That is how offenders operate and how they are excused. That is how the world that hurt us was built. And you have added to that.

That is why you owe us an apology as much as you owe Rebecca. When may we expect it?

Sincerely,

Add your name to this letter

***

Dear Professor Dawkins,

You have taught me much; now I hope to teach you something.

Sexual advances are threatening and intimidating to the less powerful person in any situation of vastly unequal power.  In the context of this incident:  Rebecca, a woman who is, just by virtue of being a woman, a severe minority in the freethought community in which she was participating, in the enclosed space of an elevator, in the middle of the night, with the isolation of any potential allies being far away and/or asleep, was in a position of vastly unequal power.

I am a second-degree black belt, and I’d have been intimidated, too.

I attended my one and only freethought conference in 2009.  I’ll only ever attend another if I get married to someone who doesn’t mind sticking by my side.  I averaged a proposition of some sort during the socializing times about every forty-five minutes.  As a result, I had to think defensively the whole weekend, and it was neither productive nor fun.

I hope this helped.  Thank you for all the ways you’ve helped me.

Sincerely,

Holly M.

***

Dear Mr. Dawkins,

I’m an atheist, too, and I try to be skeptical.  I’m an admirer of your books and your lectures and other videos.  This morning I read your posts on PZ Myers’ site in reference to Rebecca Watson’s comments about her experience at the conference in Dublin.

I’m actually rather numb.

I’m stunned. If someone had simply told me that you had said these things I wouldn’t have believed it.  I’m still hoping that the comments actually come from someone impersonating you.

Sadly, I am not at all surprised at the number of guys posting in various online forums who don’t get it. Gatherings of skeptics, atheists and fans of comic books, sf, fantasy and gaming – frequently interrelated – feature women vastly outnumbered by men (less so these days, fortunately) in areas where absolute morons do actively hit on, maneuver and badger women all the time. Female guests as well as attendees have found themselves accosted by other guests and attendees for decades.

It’s not that every guy is always on the prowl. That would be an obvious fallacy.  In this instance, the man in question didn’t ask her to go “somewhere” for coffee, or if they could “meet later” for coffee. Even if he genuinely had no ulterior motives and simply thought his hotel room would be a convenient place to have a conversation (unlikely at 4AM but possible), it put her in an uncomfortable position when she was otherwise alone in an enclosed space.

Let’s put another spin on the scenario. You’re on an elevator in the USA with a guy. He pulls out a gun as he’s talking to you. Further suppose that you’re in a part of the US where it’s perfectly legal for citizens to carry firearms, so this isn’t a matter for a policeman; he doesn’t shoot you, threaten you or even point it at you, he’s just holding the gun. After asking him to put it away, he acquiesces. But would your heart rate slow any time before one of you left the elevator?  Would it really make you feel any better about the situation if someone later told you that it probably wasn’t loaded?  Within the context of this situation (a woman alone on an elevator at 4AM with a stranger who asks her to come back to his room for any reason), the woman would have no idea what his reaction would be to being rebuffed, however kindly she declines, and justifiably could still be nervous however well he seems to take it.

In this instance, it worked out fine, he may (or not) have been horny, but he wasn’t an ogre. But it’s not a cheesy scene from a movie from the “free love” ’70s, and until they parted and the elevator doors closed securely between them again, she was understandably nervous.

In a perfect world, he could have posed this question (or even directly asked for sex), she could have said no, and that would be the end of it. We do not live in a perfect world. Have you not gone through an airport screening recently? Knowing that, and knowing the physical power imbalance between most men and women, how can anyone not understand on some level that women can feel nervous – even when not overtly threatened – in certain situations?

We live in a world where attitudes and actual violence toward women do not have to be the law of the land or acceptable to the eyes of the law.  It simply happens.  Not being the norm, it can become as nerve-wracking as finding yourself alone on a train or a bus with a posturing gang member.  Chances are he’s not a going to pay the slightest attention to you, but perhaps you’re thinking “What if?”  What if he decides to harass you?  What if friends of his get on at the next stop and they’re looking to let off steam?  Even when you’re accustomed to riding late at night through a rough neighborhood and have never been accosted, there’s likely to remain at least a low-level of apprehension.

And that seems to be all that Ms. Watson was conveying.  The guy wasn’t passively sharing an elevator with her, he approached her in an uncomfortable manner.  That nothing happened isn’t the point; that he crossed a line of etiquette was the issue.  Was it as severe as throwing a drink at her, calling her names or physically attacking her?  Of course not, and she never claimed that it was.  But it is something that people should be aware of.

I sincerely hope that you will think about this, not simply because it tarnishes your reputation, but because it’s something that you’ve overlooked in your analysis.  As a scientist and a skeptic, you should be happy to review the “data” of your perception.  If you do, I’m sure you’ll see the point.  Anyone who appreciates the complexity and beauty of evolution must be able to see this.  And perhaps you will find that a formal apology to Ms. Watson (especially), Mr. Myers and the atheist/skeptic/feminist community to be not only appropriate but necessary.

Thank you for your time,

Keith B.

***

Hi RDF,

I have no idea how to contact Richard, I doubt my voice would make it through what must be a very busy inbox, so I’m sending my message here. If it is worthy, please forward it on.

The following link is a recent news story about a Canadian woman who was raped in a hotel while at a conference in Houston Texas. In this case the victim was not assaulted in an elevator, but was stalked to her room at 11pm where she was forced inside and raped.

The Houston police did nothing. The Toronto police tried to help her but nothing happened. Only after an officer she personally knew in Toronto looked into the case and persistently raised hell with the Houston police did anything happen to finally bring the criminal to justice. Three years later. The effort required was significant enough that the Toronto police officer received an award for her actions.

The rapist was the hotel manager, with full access to the entire hotel. He has likely raped others. In such cases the rapist is protected by the fact that it’s her word against his, with no witnesses. He has the woman’s embarrassment and shame to protect him.

[Editor’s note: Read the story here.]

In my opinion, Richard’s comment on the Pharyngula blog, stating that escape from an elevator is as easy as pushing a button to stop the elevator on the next floor is very short sighted and unrealistic. He seems to be making the common mistake of assuming that everyone (including the rapist) is as rational as he considers himself to be. Did Richard not even think that a woman could be incapacitated in an elevator? That a man could just say “Oh, she just had too much to drink, I’m getting her back to our room” to stop the concerns of people in the halls?

I understand that Richard is a man molded by the times and environment he has lived in, that it is probably not his intention to appear sexist, and that there certainly are cases of people (men and women) apparently being overly concerned about seemingly trivial occurrences. But this is not one of those times.

Richard’s archaic way of thinking is no longer acceptable. Rebecca Watson deserves a public apology.

Thank you,

Ken

***

Dear Prof. Dawkins,

Since you ask, I’ll attempt to explain what you are not getting.

A man asked her back to his room for coffee. You said it was the end of the story, but that’s not the case. You have cut off the beginning of the story, and the beginning is where the point lies.  The reason his request was a problem was not the request itself, but the time and place. The context is what made it creepy, and the elevator was not the only context. I trust that PZ Myers and others have covered the elevator issue well enough that you understand why it’s not a good place to proposition a lone woman. Let me elucidate the rest of it.

1 – She had had no prior conversations with this man, but he tried to get her to go back to his room anyway. That’s not only creepy, that’s presumptuous and rude.

2 – It was 4 am, and she noted that he had been present when she said that she was tired and it was time for her to get some sleep. He chose to ignore her explicitly stated desires and tried to get her to have coffee with him in his room. Again, this is presumptuous and rude. It’s creepy because it’s an indicator of what might be a larger problem – if he can’t listen to what she just said, what else might he ignore?

3 – At 4 am, a hotel, even in a big city like Dublin, is not crowded.  That makes it less safe.

4 – The irony, which is what Ms. Watson originally pointed out in her video, is that this man tried to pick her up at a conference where she had just spent the entire day talking about why that kind of thing is not acceptable behavior. He claimed that he found her interesting, but evidently he didn’t find her interesting enough to actually listen to what she had to say.

5 – He could have said, “I enjoyed the talk you gave today. When is your next presentation scheduled?” He could have said any number of innocuous things. Instead, he chose to put her on the spot and ask her to come to his room to serve his needs, either conversational or sexual, completely ignoring her stated desires.

6 – He could have talked to her when they were still both in public spaces with other people around, but he chose to wait until they were alone. This is another red flag.

It is critical to your understanding of this situation that you grasp that all women, everywhere, are engaged in constant low-level threat assessment when in public.  When I go out, I walk well-lit streets.  I pay attention to who else is walking near me.  If I take public transit, I try to find a populated train car. When I talk to men I don’t know, I pay attention to what they say and how they say it, because that can demonstrate red flags. For instance, if I am at a convention and a man tries to separate me from the rest of the crowd, either by asking me to his room or simply cornering me at a party, that sets off a flag.  This man did both to Ms. Watson.

My argument is that there was no need for him to make her uncomfortable in the first place. He didn’t need to set off all those flags.  She had already said “no“ by stating her plan to go to sleep, but he chose to ignore that and proposition her anyway. That’s disrespectful, and is exactly the kind of behavior that as a feminist I’m fighting against.

It’s also critical that you understand that his intent does not matter. What matters is his behavior, and what he did is exactly what predatory men do: they isolate women, they ignore stated desires, and they wait until their target is in a weakened state. Up until the point Ms. Watson got off the elevator, she had no way of knowing that this man was simply rude and not predatory. If men don’t want to be seen as potential predators, then they need to learn how not to act like predators.

As atheists, we need to address problems like this because they cumulatively contribute to an atmosphere where women feel unwelcome. If a conference is known as a place where incidents like this happen all the time, then people will be less likely to come. Women will stay away because we don’t want to be creeped on, and men will stay away because they don’t want to be around other creepy men.  It was a small thing, but small things add up, in society just as in biology.

In “The God Delusion,” you wrote a moving passage about how feminism raised all of our consciousness, and how you hope to emulate what feminism accomplished. When I read it, I took it to mean that you now identify as feminist. That gives me hope that you will not simply dismiss this issue out of hand, that you will listen to feminists, and raise your consciousness again. We still have work to do.

Sincerely,

Robynne W.

***

Mr. Dawkins,

I was befuddled by your dismissive response on the Pharyngula blog. I was highly disappointed to see you, someone so highly regarded within the atheist movement, repeating the inconsiderate and misinformed statements which male-rights activists shouted when anyone opposed.

Nobody disagrees with the idea that Middle Eastern women cope with much more serious tribulations every day. This injustice is intolerable, but simply because it exists does not give anybody the right to overlook or dismiss lesser suffering. I realize that your statement might have been in sarcasm, as I seem to remember you saying on Pharyngula. If it wasn’t, I only have reason to be further disappointed. If it was, it was simply appropriate. The scale of the reaction to your first response on Pharyngula was massive, and many people re-used your inappropriate argument about women in the Middle East during the thread.

The statement I’m reasonably certain you were serious about that I would like to address in full is the matter of your asking Rebecca Watson to “grow thicker skin”. Her response was appropriate; he made an unwanted sexual proposition in an inappropriate place at an inappropriate time. She discussed the behavior and said that it was creepy. She did not lament the woe of her oppression, as many have tried to make it seem. However, given that this particular experience is not all that unusual for any woman to encounter, it’s something that needs further discussion.

This is certain; many women feel intimidated to attend atheist conferences. They do not want to experience unwanted sexual advances or, in extreme cases, inappropriate and unsolicited touching. It alienates women from the mainstream movement. I feel that this is of paramount importance. To the skeptical movement, which seems to have such a diversity in the opinion of its people, the loss of the group is both a shame to the women who would like to participate, but feel intimidated, and to the people who are losing the chance to broaden and diversify their conventions and groups.

I encourage you to reassess your opinions. It’s an important subject to many, and I’m sure you realize how disappointing your dismissal of it was.

Regards,

Michelle

***

Dear Richard,

I am a big fan of yours. The God Delusion and The Selfish Gene were both pivotal books in my life.

So it is with great pain that I read your recent comments, publicly trivializing Rebecca Watson and her experience.

Very, very disappointed in you, Professor.

The language used. The dismissiveness.

Although I do appreciate your involvement, make no mistake: you are not a spokesperson for us, or for the women who have gone before us. Those rights that have been won by our mothers and our grandmothers remain tenuous even in the west.

These are human rights and NOT privileges.

How dare you imply otherwise.

Small erosions, when left unchecked, lead us back to less enlightened days. How far back can it lead? We don’t know.

You are well aware that the separation of church and state, especially on the educational front, consists of an endless chain of small efforts over what seems to be trifles. Constant vigilance. Reviewing laws, reviewing curriculum. Rooting out inroads made by creationists demanding a “balanced view.” Checking the wording of textbooks. Losing a little ground and gaining it. Court battles squabbling over words.

Over mere words.

But according to your attitude, all these First World concerns are nonsense.

Just whining.

After all, there are people out there being beheaded for apostasy.

Professor Dawkins, you should apologize publicly.

Because I continue to respect your work, and I don’t want to lose respect for you as a person.

Sincerely yours,

Kara B.

***

Dear Richard,

If I were the type of person who had heroes, you would be one of them. I read your book “River Out of Eden” as a teenager and it would deeply affect my view of the world and the course my life would take. (As I write this, I am taking a short break from being one of the leaders at a humanist youth camp. The others are facilitating the kids’ discussion about identity.) I met you twice, and remember how excited I was that you remembered me the second time. I had given you some feedback on “Root of All Evil?” that you took seriously and made me feel like you are truly an honest and humble individual. This is why I am now so deeply disappointed.

I know you’re an old, white, highly educated man, thus part of several of the most privileged groups in society and therefore statistically one of the least likely to “get it”. Still, the same is true for for instance my dad and PZ Myers, and they do seem to get it. I thought you were at least as smart and openminded as them. (It was dad that gave me your book to read, and years later it was I that introduced him to PZ’s blog Pharyngula.)

But you don’t get it. You don’t seem to understand that while some things may seem innocuous enough, it is the context that makes them bad and our feelings about them make sense. The context is one you will never experience personally, because you are a man, and you will thus have to give those of us who DO experience it the benefit of the doubt. When we tell you that women don’t feel safe in this society, you have to trust that we are not lying about our feelings.

Consider a dog. It’s big and (in it’s owner’s eyes) cute and completely harmless; it loves children and belly rubs and wants to be everyone’s friend. But only those who know that dog KNOWS that this is so. The rest of us have to consider the fact that dogs are domesticated predators and that people are irresponsible and careless with their pets. So to anyone who doesn’t know the dog, when it comes running towards you barking, you are completely in your right to be afraid of it, and angry at the owner for not keeping it on a leash.

That is what happened in the elevator with Rebecca. We live in a society where women aren’t safe, and thus it doesn’t matter how pure the intentions of an individual man is, how harmless he is — he has to consider the fact that to us, if we don’t know him, making an inappropriate suggestion in an inappropriate setting will make us see him much the same way we see that strange dog. It will make us creeped out and a little angry at best, afraid for our lives at worst.

(Yes, I am generalising. Not all women react the same. But you’re a biologist, you know all about useful generalisations.)

And this is why the suggestion to walk away is so utterly ridiculous. The point is that we don’t know if we will be ABLE to walk away, or if that man will be strangling us against the wall if we try. And the point is we shouldn’t have to worry about it.

You’ve demonstrated you don’t get it. I wish you would do as my dad did. He hung out with the women at his workplace, and despite him being their superior in social norms, despite him having every privilege you do, after some years they still got used to him. As a fly on the wall, he listened to their tales, and understood that it’s all real. We’re not making shit up. He, like you, is in a position to be one of the most piggish, insensitive oafs that run this society, but he isn’t, because he listened, and he took us seriously.

I really wish I could admire you as I admire him. You’ve meant so much to me, you’ve shaped my life and my philosophy with your writings on biology. And now I am just so, so disappointed.

Regretfully,

Felicia

Featured image credit: ricardodiaz11

Mindy

Mindy

Mindy is an attorney and Managing Editor of Teen Skepchick. She hates the law and loves stars. You can follow her on Twitter and on Google+.

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277 Comments

  1. Profile photo of randomexcess
    July 6, 2011 at 4:31 pm —

    This a fine teachable moment for Professor Dawkins and I am sure he will be swayed by the evidence. I do think that wrong to address the letters “Dear Dick”. I won’t even make a case for it, if you do not see it, you demonstrate and embody the same ignorance that Professor Dawkins showed us.

  2. Profile photo of dpeabody
    July 6, 2011 at 4:45 pm —

    Many of us love you Richard.
    .
    The time has come to return the favour you did for us and raise your consciousness.

  3. Profile photo of Leah C
    July 6, 2011 at 4:53 pm —

    I’m not sure ‘Muslima’ is racist. I believe there are a number of women’s sites and organisations that use it just as a term for a female Muslim. ‘Muslimah’ traditionally refers to a Muslim woman – it’s common in many languages (actor and actress for instance – though I prefer to refer to all as actors) thus not necessarily bearing racist or sexist connotations. I could be hideously wrong about this, in which case please correct me.

    However, I’m honestly glad Dawkins made these remarks because this issue in the sceptic community would otherwise have been brought up separately on a couple of sites then would have died down after a couple of weeks. Instead, there have been multiple threads on it across the forum, we’ve seen quite a few MRAs leaking through the cracks in the walls but also good numbers, male and female, calling them out on their bullshit and sharing their stories.

    He has given it exposure it may otherwise not have had.

    So thank you, Professor Dawkins, now if you could please consider what’s been said, think about it (rationally) and then post an apology – an honest one.

    Feel free to swear all you like in your apology.

    Yours,

    Leah Coul

    • Profile photo of Mindy
      July 6, 2011 at 5:33 pm —

      That is interesting, and I didn’t know that. However, what I was really trying to say is that assuming a generic Muslim woman will be abused may not be the greatest thing in the world. Not to belittle the suffering that does go on; there is far, far too much of it, in fact. I just felt he made an overbroad statement that wasn’t fair to the many strong, independent Muslim women in healthy relationships. But, at the very least, that wasn’t clear in my letter, so thank you for pointing it out.

      • Profile photo of phyraxus
        July 9, 2011 at 12:07 pm —

        OMG, I can’t believe you are belittling the oppression of muslim women. WTF is wrong with you?

  4. Profile photo of deviladv
    July 6, 2011 at 5:08 pm —

    While I agree with the logical evidence of the remaining letters, I think the first letter is entirely unproductive. It’s filled with hatred and bile, not evidence and arguments. I almost didn’t read the other well formed letters in this post.

    And while I agree with the comments in the second letter, it’s also unproductive to begin a letter with “dear Dick”.

    • Profile photo of benoit
      July 6, 2011 at 5:22 pm —

      I would have addressed it “Dear Thick Dick” myself…

    • Profile photo of benoit
      July 6, 2011 at 5:30 pm —

      Actually, here’s something more to the point:

      Dear Dick,

      I know a few Richards who don’t mind being called “Dick” one bit. Therefore, you should have no reason to object to my calling you one.

      Apologize already, and I’ll resume calling you Richard.

      • Profile photo of questioningkat
        July 6, 2011 at 6:32 pm —

        Hmm Rebecca, Is this kind of immature talk typical around here? I left PZ because I was tired of the childish comments. Please tell me it’s rare, otherwise I don’t see myself staying here very long.

        • Profile photo of punchdrunk
          July 6, 2011 at 10:11 pm —

          That is, without a doubt, the strangest thing about this- this site is fun and only mildly confrontational. The commenters are easy-going, and the posts are informative and light.
          I’m not a member of the ‘Community of Skeptics’ or ‘Community of Feminists’ – just a lurker in the margins. And the response to the original vlog, the people (guys) who showed up to make (and make up) ridiculous arguments. The people who wouldn’t listen, staked a side and *could not* be wrong. Over this little ‘don’t be that guy’ comment.
          Yeah you guys have a problem. Fer Reelz.

          • Profile photo of
            July 6, 2011 at 11:40 pm

            No, I think Questioningkat has some really valid points both in this thread and in the other. There has been an avalanche of irrational, hateful, completely irrelevant, and ad-hominem filled posts here and at Pharyngula from both sexes on all side of the topic.

            These two topics, Elevator Guy and Dawkins comment at Pharyngula, have gone insane with very, very little rational or well reasoned thought or discussion being presented by anyone on any side.

            Having read too many hundreds of comments here and at Pharyngula, my primary take-away is that about 80% or more of the commentors fail to comprehend what they are reading; are incapable of anything other than an absolute black and white view of the world; are utterly incapable of thinking about or comprehending a viewpoint that does not agree with their own, etc. And I refer all that to all genders on all sides of the topic.

            Pathetic, really.

        • Profile photo of mrmisconception
          July 7, 2011 at 12:45 am —

          They tend to be in the minority, but they happen; welcome to the internet.

        • Profile photo of benoit
          July 7, 2011 at 6:54 am —

          You may find it immature, but it’s exactly what I feel like writing DD, in all seriousness. Maybe it would help him see that one has the right not to like X just because others don’t mind X.

    • Profile photo of emitc2h
      July 6, 2011 at 10:25 pm —

      I kind of agree. Robynne’s letter on the other hand, is fantastic.

  5. Profile photo of shinobi42
    July 6, 2011 at 5:14 pm —

    Dear Mr. Dawkins,

    Every woman has a list, a file in her mind, or as I like to think of it a gooey pile. These groups of memories consists of occasions where she was, almost was, or was afraid she was about to be raped. It consists of occasions where men, unknowingly, or knowingly violated her, or at least threatened her.

    It is memories of hiding in the bathroom at the club to avoid the guy who keeps approaching her, walking an extra two blocks so the guy following her in his car didn’t know where she lived, thinking about getting off the bus because she’s the only one on it and the driver keeps looking at her, being groped by a funeral director on her way into a church.

    Women all live with these memories of fear, intimidation, violation because they are part of our experience. We learn to watch for risky situations and be as vigilant as we reasonably can be because we know that if anything happens to us, and we weren’t being pristine angels, we will be the ones to blame.

    Don’t you think we have a right to speak up when the men around us knowingly or unknowingly contribute to our pile of horrible memories of fear?

    It’s not every man’s fault that every woman lives with this fear. It is only some men who hurt women and make them live in fear. But when good men dismiss us, our wishes, our requests for respect, they are making it easier for the bad men. When you defend a man’s “right” to make a woman uncomfortable, you’re making it easier for the rapists.

    I have respect for you as a skeptic, so I hope that you can think more on this issue, and have the strength of character to admit your wrongs an apologize for those you have insulted.

    -Shinobi

  6. Profile photo of killerchihuahua
    July 6, 2011 at 5:18 pm —

    Robynne W. explained in the most clear fashion I’ve seen yet precisely what was wrong with EG’s actions. I’ll be pointing my Clueless Friends here, as well as to Schrodinger’s rapist, when they demonstrate they don’t quite understand the problem.

  7. Profile photo of thixen
    July 6, 2011 at 5:22 pm —

    PZ really does sum up what my opinions are on this topic better then I even can (and yes I did come to my opinion before reading his blog) so I’m not really sure what more I can add then another name to the list of skeptics/Atheists who think Rebecca was unfairly criticized for doing nothing more then giving out some pretty decent advise.

    From a male point of view I think if anything single men going to conferences should thank her for pointing out something that they themselves may not have thought of. Taking her advice of that’s not the right way to start a conversation with someone that you’re interested in may actually help some guy’s chances of getting to know someone better. If that’s part of your goal of going to these events then instead of telling her she’s wrong guys should heed her advice. How often does an intelligent well spoken woman give insight into a woman’s mind in such a pleasant manner? We all say that we wish we knew what a woman was thinking. So here it is and now we want to get mad because she was being honest?

    I guess I had a little more to add to the subject then I thought.

  8. Profile photo of shanek
    July 6, 2011 at 5:22 pm —

    Um, you DO realize that “Muslima” is the plural of “Muslim,” right? There wouldn’t be a problem with him addressing a letter to hypothetical Christians “Christians:” is there?

    Or did you even bother to look it up? Did you just jump right into some kind of feminist outrage without bothering to even understand what you’re talking about?

    • Profile photo of Leah C
      July 6, 2011 at 5:33 pm —

      Nothing I can find at a quick search says ‘Muslima’ is plural. Pretty sure it’s feminine, more alike to priest and priestess. I’m not an expert on the English language or of Middle Eastern matters so I could be wrong.

      • Profile photo of shanek
        July 6, 2011 at 5:48 pm —

        It may be uncountable rather than plural, but the point still stands.

        • Profile photo of Artemisia
          July 6, 2011 at 7:21 pm —

          It is not the plural (or uncountable) of Muslim. It is a singular term to refer to a female Muslim. The plural is Muslimaat.

        • Profile photo of BeccaTheCyborg
          July 7, 2011 at 3:28 pm —

          That not looking up the meaning of terms makes you look extraordinarily foolish? It certainly does.

    • Profile photo of Mindy
      July 6, 2011 at 5:51 pm —

      I’m just going to copy and paste part of a response to an earlier comment, because I think it addresses some of your concerns:

      I was really trying to say is that assuming a generic Muslim woman will be abused may not be the greatest thing in the world. Not to belittle the suffering that does go on; there is far, far too much of it, in fact. I just felt he made an overbroad statement that wasn’t fair to the many strong, independent Muslim women in healthy relationships. But, at the very least, that wasn’t clear in my letter, so thank you for pointing it out.

      • Profile photo of shanek
        July 6, 2011 at 6:43 pm —

        Agreed, the letter was overbroad, but you made a big deal of him addressing it to “Muslima.” That was WAY uncalled-for.

  9. Profile photo of realityminus3
    July 6, 2011 at 5:24 pm —

    Dear Richard

    I ask you to reconsider the angle from which you are approaching this. Instead of “read / perceive / issue dissenting opinion”, I ask you to treat this as a philosopher might when encountering a contentious idea. Let me explain.

    Your initial reactions to Rebecca Watson’s “creepy elevator experience” story show that you perceived her as raising an issue where there was none to be had. There are certainly events when such is the case, and there are certainly times when it is fully appropriate to call these events out.

    There has been much said since to explain, embellish, and elaborate on the topic. Much has been said to berate your reaction (or even yourself), or to “put it to you simply”.

    However: an upshot to take from this is that it is very clear that many people, men and women, feel very strongly on the subject of behaviour and demonstrated attitudes towards women. Clearly, there are points that many people are trying to make, including Rebecca. Are they robust points? Are the feelings merited? Are the suggestions for behaviour changes reasonable?

    A good philosopher, when hearing an argument, will endeavour to assist in making the point–in order that it is put forth in the most complete way and shown in its strongest light. THEN, and only then, is it possible to debate its merits.

    So, Richard, please: ask WHY people feel so strongly, and what tangible, measured reasons are backing this up. Help the points be expressed — so that they either hold up under scrutiny, or they do dissolve as meritoriously unfounded. HELP the debate. It is not at all useful for anyone to react with disparaging sarcasm.

    Thank you.

    Best regards
    Elizabeth A. Williams
    Cardiff, U.K.

  10. Profile photo of kittynh
    July 6, 2011 at 5:25 pm —

    Dear Mr.Dawkins,
    Thank you SO MUCH for commenting on the “Watsongate” situation. You are a world famous atheist, scholar and author. If you had not commented, not nearly so much interest and publicity would be given to this topic. The fact that you felt the need to comment, even in such a negative way, has been a big plus. Skepchick is now a topic of discussion by many people that had never heard of the site before. People are visiting to see what the “fuss” is about. So, thank you for taking the time to write, even if what you wrote was not up to your usual well thought out standard.

  11. Profile photo of shanek
    July 6, 2011 at 5:26 pm —

    Sorry, that should be plural of Muslim WOMEN, like “Latina” or “Filipina.”

    • Profile photo of supernorbert
      July 6, 2011 at 5:42 pm —

      the plural of muslima should be muslimas, shouldn’t it?

      • Profile photo of shanek
        July 6, 2011 at 5:47 pm —

        “Muslima” IS plural…or at least uncountable.

        • Profile photo of supernorbert
          July 7, 2011 at 4:50 am —

          Sorry, but I can’t find any evidence for your claim that “Muslima is plural”. Look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muslim#Etymology:

          in arabic it is:

          muslim – singular, masculinum
          muslima – singular, femininum
          muslimun – plural, masculinum
          muslimat – plural, femininum

          but that’s arabic, it doesn’t mean you have to build the plural in english the same way.

          I’ve made two google searches one for muslimat and another one for muslimas. Both show a lot of results. So maybe you can use both forms.
          A third google search for muslima showed that the word isn’t used as plural.

    • Profile photo of supernorbert
      July 7, 2011 at 5:14 am —

      latina and philipina are also not plural forms

  12. Profile photo of Erlend Aakre
    July 6, 2011 at 5:40 pm —

    I haven’t been to a skeptics convention before (going to tam in 1 week). Is it REALLY as bad as some of those letters indicate??

    “I averaged a proposition of some sort during the socializing times about every forty-five minutes”

    “in areas where absolute morons do actively hit on, maneuver and badger women all the time”

    “This is certain; many women feel intimidated to attend atheist conferences. They do not want to experience unwanted sexual advances or, in extreme cases, inappropriate and unsolicited touching”

    • Profile photo of meko
      July 6, 2011 at 7:16 pm —

      That’s what the atheist meetups I went to were like. I had ten different conversations where the prettiness of my eyes was a focus despite my efforts. Other topics initiated were “what was your mode of transportation to get here”, “what neighborhood do you live in” and “do you do yoga.” I really came to the event to talk about skeptic stuff and whatnot, but these guys didn’t seem interested in that. Also I was followed to my car.

      If it was just one guy I’d have blown it off. But 10? It’s excessive. I experienced a similar thing when I went to Mensa meetings (the stickers were brilliant and needed). It was explained to me that I was “new meat” and those who behaved that way did so because they were really excited at the possibility of meeting someone and women often didn’t come back so they weren’t going to miss their chance. Same vibe at the atheist meetup. I felt like prey. But now they have nametag stickers. At least they thought it was a problem worth addressing instead of a prerogative that needed defending.

      I don’t like going to atheist events after my bad experiences. It’s OK if you have a guy escort you, but on your own, be ready for something different.

      The place where I have had the most interesting conversations about atheism, skepticism, church and state, how woo works itself into our medical system, the issues with privatizing and inserting religion into education, art, local politics, etc, was not an atheist event. It was a BDSM/swinger meetup. Those people are really big on boundaries and consensual activity. The want women there (and men, and women want women there too). Part of that is explicitly to have sex, obviously. But the thinking in that environment is that everyone has to consent and no one is obligated to endure situations where they are not comfortable. They also look down on following people and trying to separate them from the group as well as touching without permission. Quite nice kinky people, really. Very pro-feminist, pro-sex, in my experience.

      But every atheist meetup may not be the same, those are the ones I’ve been to. And every BDSM meetup isn’t going to be full of sparkling bright people who are informed about art and politics and interested in atheism, either. But the latter generally has rules about respecting boundaries and social pressure (and sometimes bouncers) to see that they are respected.

      • Profile photo of weatherwax
        July 6, 2011 at 11:54 pm —

        “It was explained to me that I was “new meat” and those who behaved that way did so because they were really excited at the possibility of meeting someone and women often didn’t come back so they weren’t going to miss their chance.”

        Gee, I wonder why.

        This makes me very sad.

        • Profile photo of BeccaTheCyborg
          July 7, 2011 at 3:31 pm —

          For such supposedly bright people, it seems they were a little slow to pick up on the pattern.

    • Profile photo of lygypsy
      July 8, 2011 at 9:32 am —

      “Is it REALLY as bad as some of those letters indicate??”

      Are you asking because you don’t believe all the women speaking out or because you’re only now becoming aware of the scope of the problem?

      I find a lot of the time decent guys are beyond shocked and blindsided when the realities of women are encountered.

    • Profile photo of smudge
      July 8, 2011 at 4:57 pm —

      When I was involved in the IRL atheist community over a decade ago yes, it was that bad. I could get a reduction in the number of advances by bringing my husband along, but I really shouldn’t have to do that in order to watch a talk.

      No one incident was terrible, and most were of the same sort of “maybe he’s just socially awkward” nature, but my boundaries were pushed over and over again. It would also happen when I made clear I was NOT there for a bit of tail.

      It’s one of the things (not the only one) that drove me from the IRL movement. Not only will I not attend meetings until this sort of thing gets straightened out, I am a parent and do not want my boys to think this sort of environment is acceptable. As a result, I am not going to encourage them to be involved in the IRL atheist community either unless I see some very strong signs of change. Why would I bring my children, one of which is nearing his teens, to a hook-up scene?

      Seriously, people, I am in a profession that is populated by socially awkward men and the environment is nowhere near the same level of hostility. You guys can blame it on individual cases of awkwardness all you want, but the truth is that people in the movement from the top on down are willing to make excuses and let this sort of behavior continue unchecked. I’m not opposed to people having casual sex at all, that’s fine, but I don’t think anything will change until it’s made quite clear that the primary purpose of conferences and meet-ups is not to pick up someone like-minded to head home with.

  13. Profile photo of realityminus3
    July 6, 2011 at 5:57 pm —

    P.S. Richard, please please for the love of sanity, do not pull a Scott Adams. Please step back and have a good consider before speaking again. You are too rational, too educated, and too eloquent to allow yourself to take away serious damage from this. Thanks.

    • Profile photo of
      July 6, 2011 at 7:16 pm —

      You understand this is not the first time Richard Dawkins has slammed the over the top ball-busting feminist position? He doesn’t entertain feminist hysterical hissy fits about how men are all rapists and how feminists’ paw widdle feeligs are hurt by the big strong men etc etc.

      • Profile photo of realityminus3
        July 6, 2011 at 7:41 pm —

        Wow. Thanks very much for sharing your thoughtful, considered, balanced, well-informed opinion. I appreciate comments by those who have read and made attempts to understand the points I put forth. Well done: plus one for general literacy.

        • Profile photo of
          July 7, 2011 at 12:31 pm —

          I wasn’t talking about you (was I?) At any rate as I said; not the first time for Richard Dawkins. I’m surprised the other blow up isn’t better know…?

      • Profile photo of ologies
        July 7, 2011 at 12:57 am —

        You are an embarrassment to the skeptic movement.

        That’s about all I’ve got for ya.

        • Profile photo of
          July 7, 2011 at 12:33 pm —

          I speak my own thoughts, not others’. I represent nobody. I am suspicious of those who pretend otherwise.

      • Profile photo of BeccaTheCyborg
        July 7, 2011 at 3:33 pm —

        So, dude. Tell us poor, simple feminists what would be less “ball-busting”, then. Free handjobs for creeps? “Thanks for not raping me” cookies? If you feel attacked by feminism, know that it’s a counterattack.

  14. Profile photo of rafsbio
    July 6, 2011 at 6:00 pm —

    Man tries to approach Rebecca Watson with a creepy pick up line -> Freethinking community collapses -> Creationism is taught in schools and the Catholic Inquisition is back in business.

    Boy, and I thought I had disastrous pick up lines…

    (that’s a joke, btw.)

    • Profile photo of meko
      July 6, 2011 at 7:03 pm —

      Bah, there are worse things than creationism being taught in public schools. People are starving in the world./Dawkins-ing

      • Profile photo of
        July 6, 2011 at 11:33 pm —

        Double Bah! There’s worse things than either of those: People are hitting on women in elevators.

        • Profile photo of lygypsy
          July 8, 2011 at 9:24 am —

          Well, let’s sum up the responses from the privilege-protecting bunch: I know, right? If men can’t hit on women whenever, however they want – even after blatantly ignoring and disregarding her already clearly and repeatedly stated desire to be left alone – the entire human species will go extinct!

          But, its you hysterical feminists that are overemotion and illogical.

          fer serious!

  15. Profile photo of woomobile
    July 6, 2011 at 6:01 pm —

    It’ll be hard for me to take Dawkins seriously now. And the letters were great.

  16. Profile photo of Cabbageman
    July 6, 2011 at 6:07 pm —

    Firstly, a well-reasoned and civilized argument never beings with “Dear Dick” unless that particular Richard goes by “Dick” as a matter of preference. I do not think that this applies to Mr. Dawkins.

    Secondly, while Mr. Dawkins is correct in his assertion that it is much worse for women who are subjected to Sharia Law. I don’t think that that means that Ms. Watson shouldn’t be allowed to voice her discomfort in whatever way she thinks appropriate (be it telling him in person or putting a video on YouTube or paying for an advert to be painted on the moon). It is her discomfort and she is free to do with it what she likes, so long as it doesn’t cause anybody else harm. The same way as if he is that uncomfortable in an elevator with people chewing gum (something which I find highly unlikely), he is (and should be) free to voice that fact.

    If the man on the elevator was polite and he was not making any attempt to impose himself on another person, I don’t think that he should be taken to task for a feeling that he didn’t intend to evoke. However, I don’t think Ms. Watson should be taken to task for reacting to a feeling that she felt (regardless of his real intentions). If she was reacting to an unrelenting barrage of advances, her reaction was too mild. Not knowing what “no” means, or trying to force people to say “yes” is something that should be admonished heavily in a civilized society. But social misunderstandings are just things that happen. If we think that somebody is thinking something (when they are not) and we react to it (in error), neither party should be held responsible for any period of time, because one person was mistaken in how they portrayed their thoughts and the other was mistaken in their interpretation. So even if this man was being as polite as can be and he accidentally gave the impression that he had less than pure intentions for the evening, neither party should be held responsible for their mistakes.

    Because I was not in the elevator as a 3rd party, I cannot say with real certainty how the man was behaving. I don’t think you were there either, Mr. Dawkins. Nor are we women, and it is perhaps one of the sadder truths that women are given more cause to suspect somebody of malice or bad intentions than we are, as men.

    So, while I think that it is not wholly fair of people to depict the man in the elevator as a sick and lascivious character or somebody who should be punished in some way for what could have been explained by simple social error, from what I’ve heard of the interaction, I think that Dawkins is speaking in error when he suggests that we should just keep our mouths shut when somebody makes us uncomfortable. We should all be free to say what we like. I should be able to say what I want and everybody else should be able to tell me how that makes them feel.

    Ms. Watson reacted appropriately to what she felt to be an undue sexual advance or sexual objectification from the man in the elevator, Dawkins seems to be of the opinion that we should not react to our perception of social interactions. If we followed that guideline, we’d not be able to talk with anybody in a social context and I, for one, like to socialize. Mr. Dawkins is still a great hero of mine but on this, I tend to disagree.

    • Profile photo of Cabbageman
      July 6, 2011 at 6:10 pm —

      Had she sprayed him with pepper spray for a wrongly perceived threat, then we’d need to sit down and have a serious discussion about how she reacted, but I don’t think that this was the case.

    • Profile photo of
      July 6, 2011 at 7:27 pm —

      Sorry but no. If it was just her making nasty assumptions about one person then I could agree. Instead she was making nasty assumptions about an entire birth group and that is prejudice. Ms Watson is sexist. She needs to deal with that. Her victim doesn’t need to deal with it.

      I don’t ask black people to understand the feelings of white shopkeepers who follow them round the store in case they pinch stuff either.

      • Profile photo of punchdrunk
        July 6, 2011 at 10:17 pm —

        Fuck off. You lost. You’re an idiot. Let it go. I don’t want to read any more of these asinine, argued-successfully-against posts. I don’t care what your problem is anymore, I don’t care to try to enlighten you. You’ve proven yourself willfully ignorant over and over again. Please stop. You’re just obnoxious now, and making a further fool of yourself. You’ve been tirelessly on these threads, losing your argument. You’re either a masochist, or your hatred runs deep. I don’t care. Go away.

        • Profile photo of
          July 7, 2011 at 12:37 pm —

          I have not seen the argument addressed. Profiling on the basis of someone’s birth status is immoral. It is immoral to call all men “potential rapists” or to treat them any worse than any other human being solely because of how they were born. It is sexist.

          I have not seen the argument for sexism being made here.

          Please direct me to it if you can.

          • Profile photo of lygypsy
            July 8, 2011 at 9:20 am

            Another serious question: What is the point of lying when we can all simply read the thread, or in fact simply scroll around a bit, to see that you are blatantly lying?

            What could you possibily be gaining from lying so badly?

  17. Profile photo of FledgelingSkeptic
    July 6, 2011 at 6:19 pm —

    I also posted this earlier today on my blog: http://fledgelingskeptic.com/2011/07/06/an-open-letter-to-richard-dawkins/

    Dear Mr. Dawkins;

    You have requested in the following post that someone please explain to you what your error was. I have posted your request below for readers who may not have seen it. My response, sans F-words follows below that.

    Mr. Dawkins wrote:

    Many people seem to think it obvious that my post was wrong and I should apologise. Very few people have bothered to explain exactly why. The nearest approach I have heard goes something like this.

    I sarcastically compared Rebecca’s plight with that of women in Muslim countries or families dominated by Muslim men. Somebody made the worthwhile point (reiterated here by PZ) that it is no defence of something slightly bad to point to something worse. We should fight all bad things, the slightly bad as well as the very bad. Fair enough. But my point is that the ‘slightly bad thing’ suffered by Rebecca was not even slightly bad, it was zero bad. A man asked her back to his room for coffee. She said no. End of story.

    But not everybody sees it as end of story. OK, let’s ask why not? The main reason seems to be that an elevator is a confined space from which there is no escape. This point has been made again and again in this thread, and the other one.

    No escape? I am now really puzzled. Here’s how you escape from an elevator. You press any one of the buttons conveniently provided. The elevator will obligingly stop at a floor, the door will open and you will no longer be in a confined space but in a well-lit corridor in a crowded hotel in the centre of Dublin.

    No, I obviously don’t get it. I will gladly apologise if somebody will calmly and politely, without using the word fuck in every sentence, explain to me what it is that I am not getting.

    Richard

    My Response:

    Mr Dawkins, it is evidently difficult for you to understand the social climate for US women. No it isn’t as bad as what Muslim women deal with (though there are places in the Bible Belt where you will find women being treated like property by their spouses), but that doesn’t invalidate the fact that 1 in 4 women will experience an attempted rape in their lifetimes. Many of those, both attempted and successful, go unreported because of the atmosphere of shame that surrounds rape. Victims, if they choose to prosecute, have been treated by the court system as though they somehow deserved to be assaulted so intimately. You may be aware of the controversy in the 80?s and 90?s surrounding how a woman dressed. Some men used to consider a revealing outfit on a woman to be an invitation to simply take what they wanted.

    With that sort of atmosphere of fear, what seems completely innocuous to you is potentially threatening and, for some who have already survived rape, frightening. You say that an elevator can easily be escaped from. If a woman were alone, this is true. However if someone who is a foot taller, weighing 100 pounds more than you tries to stop you, you’re probably not going anywhere.

    At 4 am in an enclosed space, after having been drinking, what seems innocuous to a man becomes intimidating and possibly downright terrifying to a woman. Should the man try to press his advantage of height and weight, there isn’t much a weaker woman can do other than fight back and scream (IF she is able) and hope the elevator stops soon or someone hears before something horrible happens.

    I hope this explains the situation to you more clearly. Please contact me if you would like to discuss this further.

    ~Maria~

  18. Profile photo of Iszi
    July 6, 2011 at 6:45 pm —

    Dear Prof. Dawkins

    Imagine being in a lift and someone you don’t know asks you for money. Then tell me you don’t feel trapped. Trust me – it is worse when they ask you for sex.

    Boys are so irrational and overly sensitive (geddit). Since when does a reasonable ‘hey, I’m uncomfortable with that’ equal ‘you lot are all rapists’?

    I like your books, I’d like to buy more. Not going to until you apologise.

    Iszi Lawrence

    http://www.iszi.com

  19. Profile photo of dude
    July 6, 2011 at 7:06 pm —

    Has anyone, for just a minute, thought about what it’s like to be in a woman’s shoes? Even if for a minute? Look – I’m a complete a**hole most of the time, and even I know that to proposition a woman in an elevator is bad form. Besides being really awkward, the woman feels trapped. She can’t run away if attacked, and until the doors open, that awkward moment goes on forever. Empathy, people!

  20. Profile photo of crimsoneer
    July 6, 2011 at 7:16 pm —

    I’m going to get a lot of flak for this, but screw it, I’m wading in.

    I agree with Richard. I think what he said was tactless, and harsh, but undeniably rational.

    Why? Because fundamentally, in a perfect world, men should be able to proposition women in elevators. As long as they’re being polite and sensible, feeling somehow wronged because a man has the gall to be in the same elevator as you, while also finding you interesting an attractive is incredibly sex-negative, and damn unfair to boot.

    I’m a man. I’ll throw that out there – in case anybody hadn’t figure that out – so no, I don’t understand what it’s like to be constantly in fear when you get into an elevator alone with a man. But that man wasn’t objectivising anybody, he was’t threatening – he found you nice, and pretty, and thought you’d probably both enjoy the evening more if you weren’t sleeping alone. Is that such a sin?

    I realise this isn’t particularly cogent, but what I’m struggling to say here is that being afraid of every single man ever when you’re in an elevator and he finds you attractive is irrational, and isn’t something you can solve by telling him to shut up. It could be solved by segregating elevators, or by making sex so undeniably taboo that nobody dares ever discuss it openly again, but I hope that isn’t a solution any of us really want to consider. Proposition somebody to sex isn’t wrong, and it would be a damn miserable world if it ever became wrong.

    I know this all sounds incredibly heartless, but fundamentally, telling men they shouldn’t proposition you in elevators because it scares you is a lot like evangelicals telling people they shouldn’t teach people evolution because it offends their faith. There was no evidence whatsoever that that man was going to attack you, or for that matter do anything improper. All he did was make an honest, polite subjection, and you reacted with irrational fear – because suspecting every single man in every single elevator who is up past midnight is irrational, although understandable – and so the onus is on you. I know that sounds ridiculous, but telling every man in the world to never ever suggest sex again to any woman ever is a far more terrifying alternative.

    • Profile photo of crimsoneer
      July 6, 2011 at 7:24 pm —

      God, and reading that in hindsight, I do really sound like a misogynistic pig. I think what I really have an issue with is you implying that this man had done something wrong when he offered you coffee.

      We can’t go down that road. That road SCARES me. That road where we can’t just be bloody honest, because of fear, is not going to lead to equality anytime soon. Expressing yourself politely and considerately should never be a taboo, even if what you’re suggesting brings back bad memories.

      Men aren’t all rapists, and by treating them all as rapists, you’re not going to win any battles. The solution is to condemn rapists and chauvinistic pigs – but a perfectly honest expression of interest in a mutually beneficial way to spend a couple of hours should never be condemned.

      When is it “okay” to proposition? Before 12? After 3 dates? Would you have been so offended if he’d instead suggested going to play Scrabble in the lobby?

      Again, I’m sorry if I’m not getting it. Maybe I’m being a bastard, but to me, it just seems like you’re suggesting censure-ship of the majority to avoid the irrational fear of the minority.

      God, I’m so digging a hole here aren’t I? Can anybody throw me a shovel?

      • Profile photo of amphigorey
        July 6, 2011 at 8:02 pm —

        Did you read the letters? We gave some good explanations of exactly why the proposition in the elevator was not, in fact, polite.

        Please read them again, and think some more.

      • Profile photo of kevcrawford
        July 7, 2011 at 9:30 pm —

        I was thinking along your same line- what if we lived in a better world. This is also the line of criticism afford by Stef McGraw, we are sexual animals and should be able to proposition each other without fear (perhaps we have a generational divide on the culture of hooking up). The following is what I posted elsewhere but I think it fits in this discussion:

        Like Rebecca Watson once believing she was living “in a time and culture that had transcended the need for feminism”, an attendee at an atheist conference may believe causal sex can be fun for both parties equally and asking politely for a coffee nightcap is a harmless means to find a like-minded participant. It seems reasonable for a rational atheist to think a kindred spirit may share his belief that a foundationless sexual advance could be made without causing hurt feelings. And if we’re living in a time that safe casual sex is possible (with a condom) then it is also possible to proposition someone at odd hours in an elevator; he’s being consistent. As to the irony that this happened right after her talk explaining that being sexualized makes her feel creeped out and uncomfortable, the pursuer could believe by letting Rebecca know that he had heard her panel discussion his behavior was different because he didn’t just see her as a sex object but as a leader of an intellectual movement. I believe the reason why Rebecca got Dawkins’ hackles up is because Richard enjoys a good romp and if you can’t celebrate throwing off religious indoctrination by propositioning someone at an atheist conference, then where can you?
        ~~~~~~
        I also have two other thoughts:

        1)Are two fellow atheists that you meet at a conference really total strangers or don’t they know an awful lot about each other from the start?
        2)Would it have been fairer when calling guys out as cads for this behavior to mention that women that sometimes accept such invitations also share some of the blame? And once you start saying, “Hey you people out there having consensual casual sex, knock it off, because I don’t like the collateral damage.” then I hope we can all agree you’ve gone too far.

        • Profile photo of smudge
          July 8, 2011 at 5:08 pm —

          I think the primary divide isn’t entirely generational so much as it is people who are open to/looking for a hook-up when going to a conference vs. people who are just there to listen to the talks. I’d like to see “singles nights” or something like that where those who are interested in sexytimes can get together. Similarly, someone on another board suggested bracelets to give to all participants that can be put on and taken off as a signal to help avoid confusion.

          Really, I’m a bit older and casual sex is a fine thing. I don’t want others to miss out on meeting up with each other, as I remember those days. Moreover, later in my life, say if my husband dies first, I might be open to and interested in casual sex again. As someone who’s not interested in it now, though, when I attend a conference or local meeting I don’t want to walk into an environment that’s almost nightclub-like in people’s expectations for getting together.

    • Profile photo of NoAstronomer
      July 6, 2011 at 10:56 pm —

      Crimsoneer, you actually nailed part of the problem in your third paragraph : “…in a perfect world, men should be able to proposition women in elevators”.

      Unfortunately neither you or I or Rebecca or Richard Dawkins live in a perfect world.

      Instead we live in a world where women are routinely subjected to vary degrees of sexual harassment. From unwanted propositions in elevators to violent rape. Presumably not by you and not by me, but to almost any woman you encounter alone you’re just another potential predator.

      No-one is suggesting that men never proposition women again. What we are saying is that 4am in an elevator is one of the times and places that is not good. Seriously, it’s just not.

      If you haven’t already you might want to read PZ Myers tips for getting laid. He addresses Atheist Conferences in particular but it’s good general advice:

      http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/07/the_decent_human_beings_guide.php

      Mike.

    • Profile photo of weatherwax
      July 7, 2011 at 12:01 am —

      “Because fundamentally, in a perfect world, men should be able to proposition women in elevators.”

      Maybe, but the world is still far from perfect.

      • Profile photo of weatherwax
        July 7, 2011 at 12:03 am —

        Opps. NoAsatronomer already said it.

        • Profile photo of crimsoneer
          July 7, 2011 at 4:04 am —

          Having read the letters more thoroughly, I have a better grasp of where everybody is coming from, but still, question:
          Was the problem that he propositioned her at 4am, or that he propositioned her at 4am *despite her having just given a talk on how bad that behaviour was and made rather clear she had no need for any sort of propositioning*?

          See, if it’s the latter, I understand – although I think you’re being unduly harsh on the man for not listening to a lecture, but hey. If it’s the former – which it seems to me is what Rebecca was implying in the video – sorry, but I can’t agree with you. Because while you take that proposition as an insult bordering on a threat, I know a lot of other people wouldn’t. Because I’ve done my fair share of propositioning in inappropriate places at bizarre hours of the night – I first met my girlfriend in a dark stairwell at a party at 2am, where we’d both been drinking, where I suggested we go back to my place and watch Gossip Girl. Now, that’s not really any less tactful than going for coffee, but instead of being irrationally terrified that I might assault her, she realised that I probably wasn’t a rapist, and we had a rather good night.

          The issue seems to be that you’re saying propositioning for sex is fundamentally wrong, impolite, and just plain bad. Which I can’t help but disagree with – to you, it might be an insult, but I know my fair share of women who’d take it for what it is: the offer of spending a couple of hours doing something far more entertaining than sleeping, in a mutually beneficial transaction.

          Again, maybe I’m COMPLETELY off. But really, would it be more okay if he’d propositioned at midnight? What about in a park on at a bar? What about at 10am? Or do you just find propositioning morally wrong.

          • Profile photo of amphigorey
            July 7, 2011 at 5:17 am

            Please notice that he propositioned her out of the blue. They’d had no previous conversations, but he asked her to come back to his room anyway.

            It’s not just that it was 4 am, or in an elevator, or without any preface. It’s a combination of all those things.

          • Profile photo of weatherwax
            July 7, 2011 at 8:07 am

            It was also that he waited until he had her trapped in the elevator. He didn’t try to talk to her outside the elevator, or wait ’til she was leaving, he had her trapped. Unintentionally or not.

          • Profile photo of danikajaye
            July 7, 2011 at 8:42 am

            Crimsoneer, part of the problem in this instance is that Rebecca had already done several things that indicated she would say no to any offer of “Coffee”. One is that part of his attempted pick-up was to say he was very interested in her ideas. He had listened to Rebecca explicitly state that she did not want to be hit on. Elevator Guy ignored this. This is one example of Rebecca already giving the NO signal but Elevator Guy decided that his need to proposition her was more important than her wish to be left alone. Rebecca had stated a boundry and he crossed it. If you contrast this with the situation with your girlfirend, had she already done anything to make you believe she wanted to be left alone?

            The second instance of an implied no (and EG was also present for this) was that she said she was too tired to continue the conversation she was having and wanted to go to bed. That is a second NO.

            Rebecca set boundaries when she said she didn’t want to be hit on, when she said she didn’t want to continue a conversation she was tired and wanted to go to bed. So when EG ignored the boundaries that had already been set his behaviour was predatory. If you had someone already repeatedly ignore your wishes would you be confident that they would accept a NO if they porpositioned you?

            I have been sexually harrassed and assaulted more times than I care to count and one thing I have noticed in hindsight is that they all stepped over smaller boundaries before stepping over the BIG ONE. Often it gets framed as “persistance”. But it’s not really. It is one person priveleging their desires over somebody elses right to be left alone.

          • Profile photo of madmachine
            July 8, 2011 at 6:08 pm

            This has absolutely nothing to do with “propositioning being morally wrong” – no one is saying that and that is not the issue that is being addressed here at all.

            Do not disregard or overlook the full and complete context of these letters. This is about disrespecting boundaries. As many women have said over and over and over again in these discussions, it is about the instances in which a man acts on his internalized belief that his desires trump a woman’s right to be left alone.

            Recommended reading: Schrödinger’s Rapist: or a guy’s guide to approaching strange women without being maced

  21. Profile photo of Danarra
    July 6, 2011 at 7:16 pm —

    Dear Professor Dawkins,

    Women have the right speak.

    Even privileged women in modern cultures have the right to express themselves.

    Do try to remember that in the future.

    Danarra Ban

    • Profile photo of botzu
      July 10, 2011 at 3:33 am —

      I don’t think that was what RD was saying. I don’t think RD was making an argument that women don’t have the right to speak. There is a real argument over RDs message, but it doesn’t need to be misconstrued like that.

  22. Profile photo of
    July 6, 2011 at 7:23 pm —

    Certainly it was very courageous of Richard Dawkins to stand up to a movement full of hatemongers like that (twice now that I know of). He’s not stupid. He knows the dangers of taking on the feminist lobby. It’s a brave decision to stand up for what is right against bullies.

    I think regardless of your views on the issue you have to admit that it was a very brave act.

    Oh what am I saying, LOL. To feminists he’s never anything but a “rich white male”. Respectful disagreement or even respectful acknowledgement of an opponent simply aren’t possible. Let this be a lesson for any other uppity males out there who ever dare to cross the feminists.

    Remember: skepticism is about rigidly enforcing a fixed ideological viewpoint by vilifying anyone who ever dares disagree with you, even if they were previously seen as a strong ally. NO DISSENT!

    That’s skepticism defined — by feminists.

  23. Profile photo of warmlittlepond
    July 6, 2011 at 7:49 pm —

    To my idol Richard Dawkins,

    Richard, you’re my idol. You made me think, hard, about a lot of things. I can honestly say that I would not be the person I am today without your influence. I am, in fact, finishing up a degree in evolutionary biology and applying for grad school in ethology. That’s how much you have shaped who I am, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

    Because of my tremendously high opinion of, it was difficult for me to read the things you wrote in the comments on PZ’s blog. Indeed, I tried to agree with you, I tried to see how you were right, because, well, you usually are. As much as I wanted to agree with you, I could not. It’s like the idea of belief–you can’t profess belief in something unless you actually believe it. You do not choose your beliefs; you have taught me this. And Richard, I believe you were flippant and extremely insensitive in your comments to Rebecca Watson.

    I have not, as some other people have said, “lost all respect” for you. That would be impossible for me to do, since I respect you for so many things. I haven’t even lost “a little” respect for you. You erred, and displayed profound ignorance about women’s issues and the concept of privilege. But, as I have also learned from you, ignorance is no crime, so long as you’re open to the idea of having your mind changed and do not bar yourself from the proddings of reason.

    I certainly don’t think that you have sealed yourself off somewhere, stuck your fingers in your ears while chanting “La la la la, I can’t hear you!” No. I think that, having read all of your books and seen probably every video yours on YouTube, you are probably educating yourself right now on these issues on which your were shown to be quite ignorant. At least, I hope that’s what you’re doing.

    So, what am I asking of you? Simple–an apology to Rebecca Watson in particular, and to the women and men who have been hurt by your callous comments. And not just an “If I say sorry, will it shut them up?” kind of apology, but a well-informed apology demonstrating that you have indeed raised your conscious on this matter. Do it not? Then I will, sir, have lost some considerable respect for you as a human being.

    Colin Wright
    Warm Little Pond

  24. Profile photo of Ali Marie
    July 6, 2011 at 7:50 pm —

    Dear Professor Dawkins,

    You requested in your third comment on Pharyngula that someone calmly and concisely explain what it is you don’t seem to understand. I’d like to give that a shot.
    For just one moment, put yourself in Rebecca’s shoes, rather than those of the man who asked her to coffee. It’s late at night, you’ve been speaking all day, you’ve spent most of the night at a bar, and you’ve expressed an interest that you want to go to bed. A complete stranger, who has also been drinking, follows you to the elevator. You and he are the only two there. He asks you to come back to his room to discuss your ideas and and have coffee. No one else is around. There’s no one to tell where you’re going, no one expecting you back at a certain time, and no witnesses to verify that, yes, this is what the man said and how he said it. While he likely has every intent of just having a conversation, sleep deprivation and alcohol could turn his friendly conversation a little too friendly. And because you’re tired, you’d be less able to defend yourself should things get out of hand. And no one would know until far too late. It doesn’t matter if the guy was well-meaning, but clueless. What matters is that the situation was awkward at best, and quite likely much, much worse.

    Don’t believe a friendly conversation can turn into sexual assault? There are many better examples than mine, which I’m sure other people have been able to share with you. But here’s my own anecdote: There was a boy I knew from community band. All I did was say Hi, try to be nice, because this was a kid who got picked on some. Before I knew it, he wouldn’t leave me alone: he insisted on shaking my hand or hugging me or patting my shoulder or back every single time he saw me. He would single me out, try to pull me away from my other friends so he could talk to me. He even once found my home phone number and called to ask me out on a date. I had never expressed interest in going out with him, and certainly had never given him means or permission to call me. It took three and a half years, and moving 700 miles away, to finally make him leave me alone. For him, it may have been a harmless friendship and crush. To me, it felt like I was being harassed and stalked, like I couldn’t be safe or get away, even among a group of 50-200 other people.

    No one was claiming that these sorts of incidents are equal to the misogyny that occurs in Muslim nations, or other communities where female mutilation, selective abortions of girls, or oppression and functional enslavement of women occur. What we are claiming is that sexism and misogyny, in any form, are unacceptable. Every single woman deserves exactly the same rights to feel safe, secure, comfortable, and respected as every single man. When anyone, of any gender, has this right taken away, then we have an obligation to support them and raise awareness of the issue. I feel that’s the long and short of what Rebecca was attempting to achieve, and responding with sarcasm and deprecation is counter-productive and demeaning.

    So, this is why your comment has ignited a firestorm of passions. This is what you seem to be misunderstanding. This is the problem of not taking the time to appreciate all the perspectives. Because in your comment, as well-meant as it may have been, you accuse Rebecca, and every other woman who’s had to deal with potentially threatening situations caused by other people, malicious or oblivious, of simply whining and freaking out over nothing. And I can assure you, from the perspective of the threatened, it is most certainly not nothing.

    I hope this helps to clarify exactly what the problem with the “Elevator Guy’s” actions and your own comment were. If you still don’t feel you understand, please don’t hesitate to say so, and I will do my best to elaborate further.

    Sincerely,
    ~Ali Marie

  25. Profile photo of TheGripester
    July 6, 2011 at 7:50 pm —

    Dear Mr. Dawkins,

    This letter may be submitted to you amongst many others which protest your recent remarks posted on Pharyngula regarding Rebecca Watson. These other letters contain several excellent arguments and viewpoints which come from women who have to deal with unwanted attention on a daily basis. Since I am a man, though a faithful husband and father of daughters, I cannot pretend to know what this is like on a first-hand basis. However, I would like to respectfully point out to the part of you that is a debater, skeptic, and champion of reason, that your post is highly regrettable, erratic, and unworthy of a person of your reputation.

    Firstly, for the sake of strengthening your argument through third-person condemnation, you referred to Ms. Watson as if you did not know her personally and had never met her:
    “Only this week I heard of one, she calls herself Skep”chick”, and do you know what happened to her?”
    This intimates that Ms. Watson is somehow a trivial bit player in the skeptic community, which begs the question of why you would be appearing seated next to her on stage.

    Secondly, you suggest that Ms. Watson’s opinion is of little real value by creating a false equivalence with the plight of a traditional Muslim woman. This is, of course, a form of straw man argument. It has the effect of suggesting that dialogue within the female skeptic community over issues of proper boundaries has no merit, simply because other women in the world suffer much worse.

    Thirdly, with regard to the above point, your comments seem to conflate the reactions of the skeptical community with Ms. Watson’s own very mild initial video comments. How is this so? Well, your post is not a reaction to her video, as it is not placed on the original Skepchick post, nor its linked YouTube page. Rather, it is placed in the heart of a series of heated comments on the page of Pharyngula. Thus you are reacting to reactions – rather than getting to the heart of the matter. Since you have in no way proven that Ms. Watson makes statements for the sole purpose of creating controversies, then surely you must at least admit that your comment was jumping in on the middle of a series of other observations for the purpose of changing its tone.

    Lastly is the scoffing tone of your post. Though I am sure that you see yourself as perfectly fair and reasonable person, perhaps you are not aware that your behavior in this regard is indistinguishable from that of a patronizing chauvinist (by the way, I do not in any way believe that you are, either). Rather than simply address a fellow skeptic’s concerns, you resort to ridicule. Well, ridicule is the reaction of those who are either defying something, or diminishing something. It makes us all more curious about what you find so threatening, or worthy of diminishment. Could it be that you are personally offended by a woman making a simple public statement about what makes her feel uncomfortable? What is it about her video that causes such a reaction that you are willing to mock her in order to make a point, when she herself had made no negative comment about you or your world view?

    In closing, I would like to state that you have opened this can of worms, and it is only you who have the ability to close it. Yes, you are a scientist and pure reasoner, and one of the most distinguished in the world. But since you have made part of your life’s work the popularization of science, and the pursuit of reasoned thinking in education and public discourse, then you must take responsibility for the situation. You posted in your own name on a public forum – in doing so, you put your own opinions on a level with many others both sublime and odious. You have rolled in the mud with all of us other pigs, if you’ll pardon the expression. The outcome is that you become just as soiled as the rest of us. But as a public figure, that stain will have greater consequences than just being shunned on a message board. You have not only your own reputation to protect, but also the very commendable mission of your foundation as well.

    I am not going to join the chorus of those demanding an apology, since as a parent I know that a forced apology carries neither conviction nor emotional weight. But I urge you to think about your own role in the community to which you belong, and how those who reason and question in the manner that you recommend may have found your latest behavior wanting.

    With most sincere regards,
    Thomas Goss

  26. Profile photo of astroprof
    July 6, 2011 at 8:08 pm —

    Dear Professor Dawkins,

    This is neither about elevators nor about being hit on at conferences.

    Many of us in the freethought/atheism community extricated ourselves from social and family groups where our differing ideas were met with public humiliation. The lesson we learned is that when we spoke our minds, we risked disapproval of those from whom we sought knowledge.

    We came here in search of a safe environment where we could be who we are and say what we think, without fear of rejection or embarrassment. We didn’t come to congratulate each other and agree with everyone on everything. We could have stayed at church for that. We came to learn and to grow as individuals. We want feedback on our ideas. We want to learn how to speak without pasteurizing our words for fear that we may offend. We learned these things from you.

    It was 100% within your rights to comment on Rebecca’s post exactly as you did. We understand that you will not speak delicately out of concern that you may offend religious people or even your fellow atheists. We know that no stupid idea will be spared the lash of your words. Our problem is that your comment did nothing to build our community up and may well have silenced many other young voices who are starting to learn how to speak out. (Scared the hell out of me, frankly.)

    Young atheists, like Rebecca, will be the ones who speak long after you are gone. We need to let them grow and not stomp on them when they are just starting out. If you were concerned that she is too thin-skinned, by all means send her those words via email – give her a chance to think and to grow without thousands of eyes watching as you deliver the lesson publicly.

    You taught us well – we are speaking out against a loud authoritative voice… yours.

    Can you hear us?

  27. Profile photo of davew
    July 6, 2011 at 8:12 pm —

    “We here at Skepchick – and basically all of you”

    Nope. I’m sure there is a percentage, but not all of us. This sort of group-think is more typical of religious organizations than skeptical ones. It is unfair and unworthy to pretend the dissenting point of view doesn’t exist.

    • Profile photo of punchdrunk
      July 6, 2011 at 10:21 pm —

      Speaking as an outsider, it’s not the respectful dissent that is the problem. Look at the craziness on the threads. Over an innocuous vlog. Over ‘hey, bad form, guy on the elevator’. Fuckin’ nuts.

      • Profile photo of
        July 7, 2011 at 1:50 pm —

        On another atheist board I read the opinion is about 100% with Dawkins.

    • Profile photo of Shadow Of A Doubt
      July 7, 2011 at 12:54 am —

      As a long-time lurker I posted in the other thread but I don’t expect it will be seen there so I’ll just agree with davew that there is a pretense (or more worryingly a real belief) that any disagreement here is just irrational gabbling from chauvinists and say that whilst I didn’t find the video remotely offensive in any way, I do not agree with the reaction to Dawkin’s comments. At the very least I think it should be acknowledged he might have been disagreeing with the comments at Pharyngula as much as he was directly replying to Rebecca. And even if it was a personal attack surely this is best sorted out privately between the two of them, not with 50+ letters from third parties and a public announcement that he is finished.

  28. Profile photo of Artemisia
    July 6, 2011 at 8:25 pm —

    Dear Mr Dawkins,

    In reply to the outrage over your comments on PZ’s blog, your wrote:
    “I sarcastically compared Rebecca’s plight with that of women in Muslim countries or families dominated by Muslim men. Somebody made the worthwhile point (reiterated here by PZ) that it is no defence of something slightly bad to point to something worse. We should fight all bad things, the slightly bad as well as the very bad. Fair enough. But my point is that the ‘slightly bad thing’ suffered by Rebecca was not even slightly bad, it was zero bad. A man asked her back to his room for coffee. She said no. End of story.”

    Your then went on to request that someone explain the problem with your position which I now attempt to do.

    I think there are two primary objections to make in response to your defense. The first is that it makes NO difference if the incident was ‘zero bad’, as the point of bringing the action to light was to assist in the understanding of how actions are PERCEIVED by others. The ‘badness’ of the underlying action is immaterial in that context. The second is that the actions were absolutely not ‘zero bad’ however I feel that the second point has been very well addressed by many others and so I’ll simply address the first.

    In my job as a teacher of adolescents, one of my responsibilities is to assist them in development of social skills. One of the key aspects of development of those social skills is a willingness to modify one’s own behaviour to put others at ease. It is therefore important to understand how other people may be made uncomfortable by certain actions. This DOES NOT mean there must necessarily by fault on the part of any party. You seem to imply, by use of your analogy of the chewing gum, that social discomfort is solely the responsibility of the person feeling it, so long as no fault is attributable to the party causing the discomfort. I argue that this is an unhelpful and socially immature viewpoint. People who get along well with others do so by acknowledging the perspective and feelings of others IRRESPECTIVE OF THEIR OWN FAULT. Many men and women have asked the question, “How do I get along well with and create an inviting environment for women?”. Ms Watson was answering that question and only those who do not want a sincere answer to that question would choose to ignore or belittle her perspective. If you do not want an answer to that question, then that is certainly your prerogative, but then Ms Watson’s comments were not in any way addressed to you and it was inappropriate that you chose to comment.

    Imagine that you are in a public toilet, using a urinal. There are 5 urinals in this toilet and you are using the one on the end. Another man enters the toilet – which urinal would you expect him to choose and how would you feel if he took up in the one right next to yours? My male students will almost unanimously state that if a person came an used a urinal right next to theirs, when there are other options, they would feel uncomfortable. I use this example as I think it is an uncomfortable situation in which the situation could absolutely be described as ‘zero bad’.

    If you were asked about behaviour from men that made you feel uncomfortable, and gave this example, would you expect his response to be to point out how baseless that feeling is? How irrational? That you should have simply asked him to move to another urinal, with an issue arising only if he then refused? Does it matter that the individual had the best of intentions? That he admires you and just wanted to start a conversation and feared he would miss the boat once you left the loo? That other men in Iraq are being shot in the street? Does any of that change your sense of discomfort? Almost certainly not, as the reason we have these ‘uncomfortable’ feelings is that when a person shows no regard for widely understood social norms, in particular our personal space boundaries, one becomes uncertain that their behaviour will conform to those social norms in other respects, which puts us on our guard.

    Men have asked women how they can be put at ease and feel welcome in certain male dominated fora. My sense from your response is that there are boundaries and limits on what you are willing to do to create that sense of ease and welcome. I think that is a great shame and I do hope you will reconsider.

    Regards
    Sansha Johnson.

  29. Profile photo of scotte
    July 6, 2011 at 8:36 pm —
  30. Profile photo of cthandhs
    July 6, 2011 at 8:42 pm —

    Dear Professor Dawkins,

    I know you only from your reputation and your books. I was surprised and deeply saddened to see you publicly dismiss Ms. Watson, one of the leaders of the skeptical movement, for having the audacity to speak out against sexual harrasment at conferences.

    When you tell one of us to grow a thicker skin or it’s not a big deal or it’s unfair to the man, you have become part of the problem. You have become one of the excusers, one of the defenders the social system that encourages rape positive culture in our society.

    It is your privelage that allows you to assume a stranger on an elevator is not interested in raping you. It is your privelage that has kept you from being stalked, groped, assulted, harassed or shunned for not being suffiently compliant. You don’t see your privelage because you could not imagine living without it. Half of us do not share that privilege. Your scorn is tantamount to the fabled phrase “Let them eat cake!”

    Whats worse, when you dismiss Ms. Watson, you destroy our ability to form a safe community. Due to your comments I can see very clearly what would happen to me if I dared to complain about harasment. When the people at the top of a movement are not interested in inclusive behavior, there is zero chance that the people at the bottom will be. The easiest thing for a woman to do is avoid the whole situation. Yet we wonder why so few women attend.

    The very best thing you can do is learn from your mistake. Apologise. Stand with Ms. Watson and say that harrassment will not be tolerated at conferences. Encourage women to speak up when they feel thretened. Prove that athiesm can be a community, not just a bunch of knobs.

    Sincerly,
    Ms. C. Carpenter

  31. Profile photo of dlrion
    July 6, 2011 at 9:14 pm —

    So should guys not hit on girls in elevators?

    Or, is your main beef with Richard Dawkins for being an articulated ass?

    • Profile photo of Artemisia
      July 6, 2011 at 9:21 pm —

      Men who do not wish to make women uncomfortable should not invite a woman in an elevator back to their hotel room at 4 in the morning.

      • Profile photo of dlrion
        July 6, 2011 at 9:46 pm —

        Is it ok to ask someone out in a Youtube video?

        • Profile photo of dlrion
          July 6, 2011 at 9:59 pm —

          1. This guy probably had friends at the conference. He probably told them he was going to try to ask her to coffee.

          2. If the guy was interested in Rebecca enough to ask her out, he probably watches Rebecca’s YouTube channel.

          3. The friends also probably watch Rebecca’s channel.

          Therefore:

          This guys friends probably know that he went down in flames. Made more embarrassing by the fact that hundreds of people think this guy is a “jerk” now.

          — I will admit (after much persuasion from my wife) that an elevator ride coffee proposition could be interpreted as creepy.

          — Will you admit that this guy getting humiliated publicly is equally if not more “insensitive” ??

          • Profile photo of Artemisia
            July 6, 2011 at 10:11 pm

            Watson simply pointed out that the behaviour of an anonymous male made her uncomfortable. I don’t see how that can be construed as public humiliation of the man.

            The fact that HE may have given information to his friends to allow them to identify him surely does not change her right to speak of her personal experience.

          • Profile photo of weatherwax
            July 7, 2011 at 12:08 am

            Since Rebecca had the good tact not to identify him, he has not been publicly humiliated.

    • Profile photo of Chris T.
      July 6, 2011 at 9:54 pm —

      First off, as guys we definitely shouldn’t hit on a woman in an elevator after she has spent the evening saying Guys don’t hit on me. And Rebecca handled it nonchalantly and it went away.
      Well, it would have.
      From what I see, the problem is that Dawkins(a herald of the advancement of science and atheism) then said, Rebecca, you have nothing to complain about and no right to feel the way you feel, so be quiet.
      A misogynistic ass move by a man who should have more of awareness.
      So I think it is a itty bitty tiny bit the first part, and a whole heck of a lot of the second part.

  32. Profile photo of halincoh
    July 6, 2011 at 9:42 pm —

    I will rely on Professor Dawkins’ dispensation of information when it comes to evolutionary biology. We all should. He is as preeminent an expert as there is in the field.
    I will, however, rely on Mr. Dawkins for nothing else. I didn’t like him as a person before this whole fiasco for multiple, personal reasons, and even if he apologizes it does not change that well formed apriori impression. But I hope he apologizes because it’s a serious fracture within the movement. Hopefully an apology will mend things for most because he is a very important figurehead, especially to those who identify as strongly with atheism as they do skepticism. But we’ve survived Bill Maher’s fall from grace and we will survive’s Dawkins’. And quite honestly, if this has educated a few men on the dos and don’t of reasonable behavior it’s a price well paid. Truth be told, and sadly told, any man who is well into his 20s who hasn’t figured out what is right and wrong between the sexes probably will never learn the needed lesson without a significant consequence.

  33. Profile photo of oliviastew
    July 6, 2011 at 9:52 pm —

    Dear Prof Dawkins,

    In your book, the God Delusion, you mentioned feminist consciousness raising and how the atheist movement could use some of those strategies itself to raise awareness of language (i.e. calling a child a “Christian child” or “Muslim Child” rather than a child of X religious parents) that can be problematic to atheists.

    Yet, when a skeptic and a feminist using consciousness raising, relatively benign language about an situation some, and perhaps many, women would find a bit uncomfortable, you say she should not be so vocal about it. It’s just words, you said in your comment.

    Calling a child a Christian child is just words as well. Other culture references presupposing belief in a god or gods are just words as well. Is it alright then, for those words to just continue?

    Now, I confess that I am one of those pantheists (or sexed-up atheists) as you call us. While I don’t mind belief, I do actually agree with you that we need to watch our language so we don’t presuppose belief. I appreciate it when my atheist friends point out things I do that alienate them, and I try to correct my behavior so as not to alienate them.

    Rebecca Watson was merely pointing out alienating behavior. Not criminal behavior, not the most vile case of misogyny, just behavior that could make a woman feel uncomfortable. I believe that a civil human, man or woman, should respond to being told that something makes another reasonable person uncomfortable with a polite apology and a change in behavior, at least around that person.

    Diminishing a person’s discomfort by saying someone has it worse does no good. I could say that atheists need not be offended by terms like Christian child or the presence of religious displays in public spaces because it’s not like they are being killed. Atheists in some countries or parts of the US have it much worse. And it’s not as if Atheists face the discrimination that most people do — in fact, statistically speaking, atheists tend to be wealthier, better educated and with more access to power than the majority of the population. So should atheists just stop whining because they have it so good?

    I do not believe atheists should be silent just because other people have it worse. Nor should any woman be silent about behavior that can be taken as discomforting just because other women have it worse.

    I only wish you would set an example of the behavior you would like to see. Instead of belittling a woman who brought up a, to borrow a term, ‘micro-slight’, you could have said, “Duly noted, thank you, and I’ll do everything I can to make sure I don’t do that.” Isn’t that what we’d like to see the religious do in regards to their behavior?

    Granted, what I’m suggesting might smack a little of that religious-tinged Golden Rule, but I thought you were quite articulate about how that was a natural human trait born out of adaptation and evolution, not the property of religion.

    Of course, to make mistakes is also human, and on this matter, I can see no logical explanation for how your statements weren’t a mistake.

    An apology to women for belittling them and to the atheist movement in general for undermining the idea that theistic words don’t need to change would be nice.

    Sincerely,
    Olivia Stewart

  34. Profile photo of porlob
    July 6, 2011 at 9:56 pm —

    It completely escapes me how what Rebecca said in the video could at ALL be construed as controversial. It was actually pretty mild, and a response to a personal experience. It’s absolutely bizarre to me that it has ballooned into this major controversy.

    Bizarre, but telling. Telling in that it really puts out on display how much of a problem sexism is. If a high-profile male skeptic was propositioned at 4AM in an elevator and vlogged about how it made him uncomfortable, it’s get a few “Dude, you shoulda gone for it!”s and probably rather a lot of “What a dirty skank!”s and then it would be swiftly forgotten about a few days later.

    But since Rebecca has the gall to question whether it’s appropriate for a man to attempt to extract sex from a woman at said man’s slightest whim, even when it is clearly unwanted and would almost certainly come across as a creepy and/or threatening, it’s a major international controversy.

    Is propositioning a women in an elevator the worst thing that has every happened to a woman, Richard? No, of course not. You’re right that culturally- or legally-imposed restrictions on women’s behavior are terrible. And that FGM is a scourge. Everyone is in agreement.

    That doesn’t make being a creepy asshole acceptable.

    • Profile photo of hesterk
      July 6, 2011 at 10:32 pm —

      Yes, Rebecca made such an innocuous and sensible comment and then things explode. It’s like Archduke Franz Ferdinand was scratched by a kitten and the Austro-Hungarian Empire still declared war.

      Thank you so much, Rebecca.

    • Profile photo of anon skeptic
      July 7, 2011 at 1:42 am —

      I think quite a bit has to do with over interpretation of what Ms Watson said. On top of this comes psychology. Men are afraid of women regulating their social interactions not quite realizing that women already do that. The only thing that Ms Watson did was to remind man of a preexisting regulation.

  35. Profile photo of Circe of the Godless
    July 6, 2011 at 10:04 pm —

    Dear Richard,

    It must be very upsetting for you to have women challenge your privileged status quo interpretation of day to day life.

    Stop clutching your pearls in disgust just because a woman had the audacity to point out the inappropriateness of an inappropriate proposition. And stop telling other people whose experiences you will never share, what should be important to them.

    I saw you speak at the Australian Atheist Convention. I’m exactly the demographic you keep whining you want more of. I expected better.

    The sheer volume of comments on these threads hostile towards women should be an indicator of the world not being quite as rosy as you think it is. Oh that’s right, it’s only the women’s world, not yours. Not to worry then.

    You have exposed yourself as someone who is the old guard of the movement, not its future. At least have the ovaries to admit it.

  36. Profile photo of danahunter
    July 6, 2011 at 10:10 pm —

    And my letter to Richard Dawkins. Says all I needed to say, I think, until the sequel wherein I spank him for not having the balls to apologize…

  37. Profile photo of pascalelane
    July 6, 2011 at 11:35 pm —

    Of course, had elevator d00d followed her back to her room and raped her, it somehow would have been her fault…

    • Profile photo of cthandhs
      July 7, 2011 at 4:27 pm —

      Exactly what I thought. It go down as “Well, certainly the victim did not deserve it, and the man should be severely punished, but what was she thinking, alone in an elevator, drunk, at 4 am?!? She should have better sense than that!”

  38. Profile photo of okapi
    July 6, 2011 at 11:46 pm —

    You should be ashamed of what you wrote. I will not bother to reiterate the reasons why as I doubt I could do as good a job as those before me.

    I decided a long time ago that I would not have anyone I looked up to or admired. By doing this I thought that I had successfully shielded myself from the disappointment that comes when your heroes let you down. What I hadn’t realized was that I can’t simply choose to never feel admiration for someone. Only when you said those careless and cold words did I recognize that I had developed a strong respect for you that I was not prepared to be forced to lose.

    Feelings are strange things. I am autistic so I lack much of the innate ability to identify what others are feeling, even if they are the most basic of feelings. But over the my life I have learned to compensate for this and to try to develop the skills. Goodness knows I haven’t been very diligent in my efforts, sometimes I have even abandoned them and renounced the rest of humanity, but I think that I have come a long way. Why am I bringing this up? So that when I say that I understand the feelings of Rebecca and others in this issue that it will hit home even harder just how obtuse you are being. You are not autistic and therefore should be much better equipped to comprehend the minds of others. So what has warped your mind so much that you cannot perform the mental task of empathy that I have been able to accomplish?

  39. Profile photo of Glow-Orb
    July 7, 2011 at 12:13 am —

    @Artemisia: Your letter really stands out. I hope he reads it.

  40. Profile photo of dlrion
    July 7, 2011 at 12:22 am —

    >Previously posted:
    >”Artemisia
    >07.06.2011
    >Watson simply pointed out that the behaviour of an anonymous male made her >uncomfortable. I don’t see how that can be construed as public humiliation of >the man.
    >
    >The fact that HE may have given information to his friends to allow them to >identify him surely does not change her right to speak of her personal >experience.”

    The male in question simply asked a female to coffee – can this be interpreted two ways — YES

    i.e. the guy entered with 4 or 5 other people and ended up out of chance being the last person in the elevator vs. the guy followed Rebecca to the elevator.

    I could say it thusly:

    “Male in question simply asked Female to coffee I don’t see how that can be construed as ‘uncomfortable’.”

    ISN’T THIS THE CLASSIC

    ARGUMENT FROM IGNORANCE – argumentum ad ignorantiam

    “I can’t imagine that XYZ can be true therefore it is not”

    Is this where skepticism is headed?

  41. Profile photo of dlrion
    July 7, 2011 at 12:27 am —

    Well that didn’t work! The > things were supposed to separate the previous comment from my reply.

    Sorry

    • Profile photo of punchdrunk
      July 7, 2011 at 12:52 am —

      Heh – I thought my brain might have overloaded.
      * *
      Also, paragraph breaks. Might be nice.

    • Profile photo of Artemisia
      July 7, 2011 at 8:12 am —

      I’m not sure if you want me to reply as I’m not sure what exactly you are arguing.

      It seems you are saying that that just because you can’t imagine why she would be uncomfortable, doesn’t mean that she wasn’t in fact uncomfortable. Which I agree with.

  42. Profile photo of weatherwax
    July 7, 2011 at 1:11 am —

    I’m going to be on duty for the next four days, and likely won’t have internet access, must less time, so I won’t be writing a letter just yet. Hopefully, Mr Dawkins will have come to his senses by the time I return.

    I suspect he’s deluded himself into believeing that the (his) struggle against religion is so important that no petty distractions can be tolerated.

    I don’t consider mysogyny a petty distraction.

    • Profile photo of weatherwax
      July 7, 2011 at 1:37 am —

      Let me correct that. I don’t think any innocent person should have feel threatened or silenced.

  43. Profile photo of ceebee
    July 7, 2011 at 1:45 am —

    Dear Richard,

    I can’t make head or tails of how I should be perceiving my interactions with men! Luckily there are amazing humanists like you who are wise and well-equipped to tell me exactly how to perceive them.

    With your handy scale, I can forget about things like feeling sexually threatened, being perpetually physically vulnerable, or having my experiences denigrated by men.

    The Dawkinsian Scale of Badness for Women
    Mutilation or stoning=quite bad
    Anything else=zero bad

    It’s easy! And simple, because there is no situation that falls in between! Life is great when you’re free from real misogyny!

    Love,
    ceebee

    P.S. Muslima is also a huge fan of your scale. Now that she’s escaped the violence, she doesn’t care if she gets respect from men! As long as she’s not getting raped, am I right?

  44. Profile photo of zeriscr22
    July 7, 2011 at 2:11 am —

    Please bear with me. I’ve criticized groups, academic, leftist, communitarian, and others, for indulging in internal witch-hunts. Too often, nobody is able to stand against some internal orthodoxy that desperately needs examination — the standards may be irrationally prohibitive, the social lockstep might be too strong, the majority can be too entrenched. A group’s members must be free to voice their positions to the group without fear of instant castigation or exile. That’s how resilient institutional wisdom develops — trial and error, played out over many waves of membership.
    In that respect, I want to give Dawkins the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps Dawkins was trying to make some point about human agency, some statement about how people rationally ought to be able to live with each other. Unfortunately, any such notion was at the very least lost in transcription; no relevant point coalesced, and now an ugly schism may be forming between Dawkins’s loyalists and much of the greater atheist community. This has the potential to be a bad thing — atheism in the United States, and indeed, the West, is at a critical juncture.
    Now, everyone has some choices to make. Dawkins is the first person at bat. If, I stress if, possible, he ought to present a cogent explanation of his position, packaged, if need-be, in the explorative language of philosophy: hypothetical supposition, admissions of personal fallibility and non-commission, and critically, thoughtful response to input. If the point cannot be packaged thus, or if it was ultimately badly-grounded, he ought to offer a straightforward and hopefully sincere apology for his remarks. As an advocate for atheism, his conduct reflects upon the community. All of those are “oughts,” not “musts;” he “may” act as he desires.
    The next step is how we, the community, will respond to what appears to be a glaring error on the part of an esteemed and influential member. Most seem to feel that a straightforward apology would resolve the situation, but what if no satisfactory pleading arises? What if Dawkins is an unabashedly misogynistic person at heart? Do we eject Dawkins, stop recommending his existing, mostly gender-agnostic, advocacy and analysis to newcomers, and write off his supporters as misogynistic rubes?
    This is an opportunity for learning. Yes, Dawkins may have — almost certainly DOES have — much to learn about women and their situation in Western society. However, we, too, have something to learn. Will we choose to encourage open, frank discussion when key members of our community disagree, to work through our differences so that we might continue working together? Or, and this is admittedly more common, will we bunker down, feminists on one side and Dawkins-backers on the other with only cold stares in between, and begin down the horrible path to fragmentation?
    Perhaps the truth is not so stark; the dichotomy is not absolute. If Dawkins is spurned today and his work thrown entirely out of polite discussion, atheists will still talk with each other, gods will still broadly be given credit for concerted effort and good fortune, and my half-uncle will keep bilking farmers by using a painted stick to locate the regional aquifer, “bless his soul.” Still, I think a meta-analysis of our response is valid here, and more such reasoning will be important in understanding whatever aftermath comes. What do we want out of our community, as atheists? What degree of exclusivity is requisite? How many useful-but-crotchety old farts can we accept at our roundish main table?

  45. Profile photo of owie9999
    July 7, 2011 at 2:16 am —

    (I’m male. I don’t know if this should go here)

    Dear RD,

    The reason why you don’t get it is because of Dunning–Kruger bias. You are not educated in this field and hence cannot appreciate the argument made here.

    As we tell creationist, that they should read the science book before making an argument, I sincerely suggest you read one or two books on this subject. After which you can make arguments based on gained knowledge.

    Sincerely,

  46. Profile photo of weatherwax
    July 7, 2011 at 2:22 am —

    I have an idea. All the woman going to TAM should have cards with a link to one of the blogs on this debate. Any of the Skepchicks, Skepbitch, BA, PZ, etc. Mix em up. And anytime a guy propositions you, hand him one.

    I’d really like to see them with sticky backs, and instead of handing him one you stick it on his clothes, but that’s probably not practicable.

    Second….You lucky so and so’s, I wanna go to TAM. Grumble grumble grumble.

  47. Profile photo of AstroCJ
    July 7, 2011 at 4:18 am —

    Heyy, paragraph breaks! Nice! :)

  48. Profile photo of misshap
    July 7, 2011 at 6:20 am —

    Hi. Delurking after. . . well, I remember when Skepchick was started, so let’s call it ‘many years’ to join in. I don’t have time to write a letter, but I did was to add how disappointed I am in Prof. Dawkins comments. ‘The Blind Watchmaker’ was one of the first science books I read, and one of the books that started my interest in science and skepticism. I was hugely disappointed to read comments that not only showed such a lack of awareness of the problems women face, but were even callous. Other people have explained why he was in the wrong better than I can, but I wanted to add my support.

  49. Profile photo of dizzi90
    July 7, 2011 at 7:04 am —

    Dear Professor Dawkins,
    I know it’s easy to forget to engage your brain before you comment on a blog post. I do urge you though, to start doing this in the future. It may seem that a comment thrown out as fast as it can be typed doesn’t really warrant the same amount of thought as a book, but when it’s signed with the name of a prominent person as yourself, it matters. I’m not going to argue the point that you were wrong to write what you wrote. That would be redundant. As you have said about other things in the past, “It makes perfect sense until you give it a moment’s thought.”
    I’m sure you can make things a lot better if you make the concession that you have asked people to make for years. Say “I was wrong.” It’s a trivially easy statement to make, but it’s in no sense trivial that you say it.

    Sincerely,
    Magnus Meyer Hustveit

  50. Profile photo of JWard
    July 7, 2011 at 8:30 am —

    guess my earlier comment got deleted. so much for reasonable discourse.

  51. Profile photo of leigh
    July 7, 2011 at 8:59 am —

    Dear Richard Dawkins,

    It is apparent that you don’t “get it” when it comes to being a woman and feeling insecure and vulnerable when approached by a man, while alone, in an elevator. I won’t waste my time restating what others have already said.

    That aside, I do believe you owe an apology to Rebecca for belittling her and implying that she is “suffering” due to being placed in an uncomfortable position. She didn’t once imply that she likened herself to a persecuted muslim woman, or anything even remotely similar. All she did was suggest that men should think before approaching a woman who may be alone and vulnerable.

    Believe what you will about whether Rebecca Watson’s situation was deserving of her feeling uncomfortable and speaking out about it, but please consider an apology for the mocking, diminishing comments you made in regard to her. She is not, by any means, deserving of such treatment.

    Sincerely,
    Leigh E. Havens

  52. Profile photo of
    July 7, 2011 at 9:23 am —

    I wonder how successful minor Internet celebrities have been in undermining Dawkins’ long and storied career thus far.

    • Profile photo of punchdrunk
      July 7, 2011 at 9:54 am —

      Does he often say ridiculous things in the middle of ridiculous internet arguments?

  53. Profile photo of bewi
    July 7, 2011 at 10:30 am —

    Dear Richard Dawkins,
    I hesitate to add my voice after Mindy’s letter above, which does not reflect my feelings at all.
    I only think your messages are a prime example for how the medium of internet discussion fora can bring even the most mild-mannered and wise people to say the most stupid things. Would you have written what you wrote
    as a direct response to Mrs.Watsons video (plus, maybe, PZ’s comments), but without a preceding discussion thread liberally sprinkled with juvenile half-thought out bile?
    Of course you wouldn’t have! You would have thought that Mrs.Watson’s short complaint about a guy who made sexual advances to her in an inappropriate manner were perfectly justified. You might have thought “Well, that’s not as bad as what Muslim women have to put up with every day of their lives”, but then it was obvious that she would have agreed with that (after all, her remarks were very moderate and not at all melodramatic).
    And then the internet discussion forum trap completely closed on you! Backpedalling from a first, stupid, contribution is almost impossible if people are criticising you with exaggerated and stupid comments for the first contribution.
    Let me put it to you as a rhetorical question: Would you ever make sexual advances to a woman whom you don’t really know and who has given you no reason to think that your advances may be welcome? If so, would you do so in an environment which lends itself well to serious sexual harassment (even if not to rape)?
    Clearly, your answer to both questions is an outraged “Of course not!”. You are far too respectful for that kind of behaviour. And of course you agree that anybody who does this deserves to be at least mildy and anonymously criticised in an internet video. I am sorry for putting words in your mouth, but c’mon – I am quite certain that you wouldn’t have said in a personal discussion with Mrs.Watson and Mr.PZ what you wrote in your comments.
    I think you should let the internet discussion form instincts cool off, and let the scientist’s insticts kick in again. Saying “Oh my, I was wrong” is the scientist’s response, while saying “Well, I wasn’t really wrong, let me just reinterpret what I said in a slightly different way” is the normal human response (I think Dan Dennett said something like this).
    You are one of the few people who really shaped the way I see the world, and whose opinion counts very highly for me. This will continue to be the case.
    Very sincerely,
    bewi (a male, white, heterosexual, fairly privileged, academic scientist)

  54. Profile photo of jtradke
    July 7, 2011 at 10:38 am —

    This is such a fantastic idea. Hopefully he’ll read all of these letters and be enlightened.

    Skepchicks: y’all are some pretty great role models for all of the women and men in and around the skeptical movement.

  55. Profile photo of registeredjusttosaythis
    July 7, 2011 at 10:50 am —

    Fucking hell this is so funny.

    It’s like a mile-long line of over-socialized suburbanite intellectuals writing to their dearest grandpa who just got addicted to drugs and now
    needs an intervention.

    Oh grandpa, I’ve learned so much from you, I still respect you! Oh grandpa, but you have to change.
    [line skip for emphasis]
    You have to change.
    [end emphasis]

    This is mostly either hateful bile or hypersensitive saccharine shite. Dawkins showed insesitivity to the position of women in a written comment on the internet. Cue random neural flare ups in the self-styled “progressive” sceptical and atheist community. AAAHHHH, one of our big names wasn’t progressive on this particular thing!!!!!! Get the care-bear commissars manning their keyboards.

    Dawkins, if you ever actually read this, I think you were a bit out of order, yeah, but do I think you need a radical consciousness raising, do I expect you to be PC on each and every utterance? No. I don’t even think I have any right to expect you to hold any particular opinions beyond what you profess to. Save that type of PC posturing for a lesser animal, i.e. politicians. Screw these people!

  56. Profile photo of Dale Husband
    July 7, 2011 at 11:24 am —

    To Mr. Dawkins,

    Your comments in reference to Rebecca Watson’s being creeped out by some guy in an elevator were wrong! Indeed, they couldn’t have been more wrong if you had suddenly endorsed Young Earth Creationism! You dismissive attitude may have been sarcasm, but it was badly worded at that. If anyone had said any such things about my wife or my daughter, I would have punched him out! You yourself have a wife and at least one daughter, so you should have known better! What you have proven is that just because you are atheist doesn’t mean you are enlightened. The only honorable thing for you to do now is to state publicly, “I’m sorry, I was being sexist and hypocritical and I will never make such foolish statements again.” And then shut the hell up afterwards for a long time.

    Until you do that, I will never listen to you again.

    Dale Husband, the Honorable Skeptic

  57. Profile photo of Izzy
    July 7, 2011 at 12:22 pm —

    Dear Professor Dawkins,

    the logical fouls in the comments you left on PZ’s thread and your trivialization of a matter dear to me as a human being, one that concerns safety and what should be common sense, are appalling.

    I won’t go into explaining why you were wrong as so many people already have done it so well, with a lot more calm then I can muster, I’m afraid, right at the moment.

    But I do hope you will read these letters and bother to give a reply. I’m joining my voice to those hoping for an apology and a sign that you’ve raised your consciousness to a problem that clearly needs to be addressed in the “movement”.

    Thank you for your time.

    Izzy

  58. Profile photo of dr. dr. professor
    July 7, 2011 at 1:13 pm —

    Well women do definitely get the short end of the stick in many areas of society. Even a lot women have been taught that women aren’t as capable. In the last two days I’ve heard from women that President Obama “Complains like a woman” and that hillary lost because she was “Catty”. And from men, yeah, I’ve heard a laundry list of things like this.

    So yes women DO face discrimination in pretty much every community or profession.

    In regards to this issue, does a man have a right to introduce himself to women for the object of dating/sex? Well the answer is in my mind is if it’s polite and respectful, she hasn’t said she doesn’t want it, the context is appropriate (i.e. casual social outing, grocery store, etc. NOT at work, not in a setting where it’s demeaning), and he accepts no for an answer the first time, then yeah, he does.

    And as far as ‘men’s rights’, in general society, men definitely get the better treatment. But there’s a few areas where it’s valid, generally.
    – Father’s rights. Many times courts do strip rights of perfectly responsible and capable fathers.
    – Perception of men in professions that are supposed to be female in society’s eyes. Men who are stay-at-home dads, nurses, school teachers, hair dressers, etc are often perceived as deadbeats, pedos, or wimps. Not cool.
    – Men’s issues. Generally there is a perception that men need to be strong and take everything on themselves, and I don’t think there’s great support networks for men in these situations which ultimately leads to higher suicide rates in men. There could be more visible support networks for guys on hard times.

    But other than these few areas, men definitely have the better treatment everywhere, and I don’t think Dawnkin’s response was really appropriate. But then again, I find his way of going about most things needlessly crass, so I’m not so surprised to hear him say this. In most circles, guys like Dawkins would be called ‘Assholes’.

  59. Profile photo of kikai93
    July 7, 2011 at 2:13 pm —

    I can’t accept the comparison of a few words in an elevator with sexual assault. As a person who has been sexually assaulted, it cheapens my experience and that of others who have experienced similar incidents to compare it to being propositioned in an elevator. Some of the language in the postings around “Elevatorgate” (seriously? self-important much?) on Skepchick (mansplain,”Dear Dick”, asshole, etc) and particularly sentiments like those in Mindy’s letter above suggest more than a small amount of bias that makes Skepchick these days feel to me like the backswing of a pendulum of extremism than a moderating and explanatory influence.

    At no point have I defended Elevator Guy as “okie dokie,” but without more compelling evidence, I see “awkward, clueless and shy” as just as likely a possibility as “creepy male-privilege saturated douchebag.” Hell, it’s possible the guy just wanted to chat over coffee. If Elevator Guy has said anything about this, it’s been drowned out in the whirlwind of commentary, and it seems unlikely at this point that he’s going to tell us what the hell he was thinking when he made his offer. Even if the man was being creepy, in the real world we all deal with creepy people all of the time. So we have one side of a story (and not a very scary story at that), and 250 people on the internet distorting the story around their own feelings and agenda.

    My initial response was similar to Stef McGraw’s, and as the conversation has unfolded, I admit I’m still at “So what?” Someone was made briefly uncomfortable, and in a very minor way. This happens to most of us every day. As the rhetoric has gotten more and more extreme, I’ve been saddened to think that anyone on either end of that spectrum is calling themselves a skeptic.

    And that is why I take exception to the way the conversation has gone. Rebecca started with “I don’t like it when people do this to me, don’t do it please.” This seemed reasonable. While I believe it was an assumption on her part that Elevator Guy had “objectified” her, which may or may not have been true, overall her response seemed reasonable. Others took it and turned it into the Great Atheist Misogyny Debate and then everyone, Rebecca included, fueled the fire. Now she and the other authors of Skepchick seem to be playing it for everything it’s worth. It’s become another round of extremist debate nearly completely unrelated to the original spark, and due to the extreme, debate-oriented, and baiting nature much less productive than it could have been. I’ve seen more of the Dworkinesque hateful second wave rhetoric surrounding this incident than I have in the last 15 years combined. MRAs are crawling out of the woodwork. Even Dawkins jumped in and made comments that were beneath him, but the response to those comments, rather than being explanatory, insightful, and exhortative, has instead been a constant stream of bile and vitriol. The pot has repeatedly called the kettle black.

    I can only hope that there is some consciousness raising among clueless men, extremist men like the mra’s, and extremist feminists as a result of this debacle, but I won’t hold my breath.

    • Profile photo of robinm
      July 7, 2011 at 4:01 pm —

      I don’t think she was objectified at all. He said he thought she was interesting and asked if she would like to talk more. Sure, Coffee is a euphemism for sex here in the states, is it everywhere? I think Dawkins was a little terse and dismissive but he was mostly right. And it’s not our right to be comfortable in every moment of every day. A lot of life is awkward and doesn’t go the way we want.

      He didn’t touch her. Once she said she wasn’t interested, he let her be. He didn’t corner her or try to intimidate her. Some cultures/people are more casual about sex than others are. I just don’t get what the big deal is here.

      • Profile photo of meko
        July 7, 2011 at 5:34 pm —

        If you don’t know a person and don’t have concern for their feelings, you are objectifying that person. It doesn’t matter whether the object of your attentions is attracting you because of beauty or intellect, if it’s all about you, you are objectifying them.

        An analogy that’s less fraught might be a medical doctor at a party. It’s a social event, not clinic hours. If you go up and start asking for medical advice, even though you respect the doctor’s expertise, you are treating the doctor like a function or thing. Doctors have already made it clear throughout society that this is generally unwelcome behavior. So it’s rude.

      • Profile photo of lygypsy
        July 8, 2011 at 9:55 am —

        He heard her say she was tired and going to bed. He claimed to be a fan, therefore would know she’s spoken extensively about not wanting to be hit on.

        he disregarded all of that and did it anyway.

        But, yeah, what’s the big deal? He only totally ignored what she clearly stated she wanted and forged right ahead. Nothing problematic in that at all.

        Those hysterical bitches, wanting their plainly stated words to be respected.

    • Profile photo of
      July 7, 2011 at 4:16 pm —

      I agree that if she had just said that she didn’t like that single experience that would be fine. But she said more didn’t she? Firstly she said that the man was immoral in his actions towards her, and secondly she charaterised the behaviour she identified as immoral, as something typical or representative of male behaviour in general. Richard Dawkins said, no, the behaviour was not immoral, and he gave the example of someone chewing gum as something that annoyed him, but he did not consider to be immoral. Dawkins did not comment on whether the behaviour was typical of men. In seeking to explain how the behaviour could possibly be seen as immoral, instead of just subjectively annoying, supporters of that theory have uniformly stressed the alleged danger that any woman is in whenever any man is around them because “all men are potential rapists” etc. That explanation was not in the original, but I don’t see any other basis for the claim that the man’s action was immoral. Obviously as a justification it fails because not all men are rapists, and it’s disgusting and gender profiling to suggest they are (or that enough of them are to make it a fair assumption). THAT underlying stereotyping of all men as suspect/violent/rapists is what was wrong with the original sentiments and those expressed later in its support.

      Rebecca started with “I don’t like it when people do this to me, don’t do it please.” This seemed reasonable. While I believe it was an assumption on her part that Elevator Guy had “objectified” her, which may or may not have been true, overall her response seemed reasonable.

    • Profile photo of Ramji
      July 7, 2011 at 8:25 pm —

      KiKai93 …. best post on this topic yet. I agree. Thank you.

    • Profile photo of
      July 8, 2011 at 12:34 am —

      kikai93, excellent post. The rabid rhetoric, from all sides, over this issue is unbelievable; seriously, it is unbelievable. And your reference to Andrea Dworkin is spot on. Dworkin exemplified the rabid, misanthropic, hate-filled worst of the 70s and 80s feminist movement. And this current storm in a teacup seems to be bringing out the worst in a lot of people. I am simply gobsmacked that some feminists are actually calling Elevator Guy’s faux pas “proposition” a sexual assault. Christ, get a grip! And the barbaric angry mysogyny from the whackos on the other side … wow, just disgusting.

    • Profile photo of Shadow Of A Doubt
      July 8, 2011 at 5:55 am —

      This, so much this.

      One small addendum is that Richard Dawkins was himself molested as a child so saying he dismisses the concerns of assault victims is just really, really silly.

    • Profile photo of lygypsy
      July 8, 2011 at 9:52 am —

      strawman, mischaracterization, etc. Please point to where someone said talking to her in an elevator IS sexual assalt. Must be somewhere, right? Since your entire badly thought out argument against this issue is based on that.

    • Profile photo of GeekGirlsRule
      July 8, 2011 at 3:54 pm —

      As a person who has also been sexually assaulted, I find that in no way does this whole thing cheapen my experience.

      There. We’re even.

      What I, and others, have repeatedly said is that boundary pushing (ie. ignoring stated boundaries to pursue your own goal, like trying to hit on someone who has said, don’t hit on me) is part of a predatory behavior set. This guy may not be predatory, but that behavior IS.

      And it is sexist behavior.

  60. Profile photo of ScottyNuttz
    July 7, 2011 at 2:35 pm —

    +1

  61. Profile photo of Dale Husband
    July 7, 2011 at 2:38 pm —

    Now ERV is slamming Rebecca:

    http://scienceblogs.com/erv/2011/07/bad_form_rebecca_watson.php

    I guess she wouldn’t mind being hit on in an elevator by some strange guy at four in the morning. But telling others that they have to accept such behavior from others is just…….abusive!

    What kind of messed up society are we living in???

    • Profile photo of kikai93
      July 7, 2011 at 3:14 pm —

      The sort of society where the average person would likely agree with ERV. I know I do. There are no heroes in this debacle. Everyone involved in the core of this debate has had their good points and their asinine moments.

    • Profile photo of lygypsy
      July 8, 2011 at 9:56 am —

      ERV is a HARDCORE patriarchy tapdancer. I’m not surprised at all.

  62. Profile photo of camilo
    July 7, 2011 at 2:54 pm —

    This is silly. While agreeing with Rebeca and the majority that elevator guy was out of line, this is really not the issue here. Hell, maybe he was autistic, maybe he was gay, probably he was attracted to Rebeca and was trying his luck. The truth is that the specters of sexual assault and rape were not raised by Rebeca – recall that she described the incident as being “propositioned” and suggested that guys not do that. The stronger terms were actually introduced by Dawkins in his post, which should be faulted mostly for being a tactless non-sequitor (Rebeca did not compare her experience to those of Muslim women). I blame Phil Plait for taking this way over the top.
    In my view what RD’s has shown is a lack of understanding of the vulnerability that many women feel in the presence of a man, any man, who has the ability and perhaps desire to harm them. Perhaps if Richard Dawkins spent time in a jungle of horny gorillas, with elevators, he would get it.
    That said, the response and this letter campaign strike me as completely counterproductive and immature. Maybe we are too used to dealing with obtuse ignoramuses that we have forgotten how to have constructive debate. I remember reading one of RD’s books and being struck by the argument he gave in the introduction in favor of using only masculine pronouns. He argued this indefensible point with the same strength as he did the theory of evolution, and I remember that this tainted my whole experience of the book. But he also said in a later interview or article that he had had a “consciousness raising” experience when a woman explained to him how such biases have pernicious effect on the self-image of girls and women. He has since changed his writing style – no small feat for a writer. This is not Ken Ham we are dealing with, but you wouldn’t know it from Rebeca’s decision disown Richard Dawkins, and the rest who have thrown him in the trashbin of intolerance. I wonder who that lady was who succeeded in changing his mind. I’m sure she would have dealt with this more constructively and to greater effect.

    • Profile photo of kikai93
      July 7, 2011 at 3:18 pm —

      The stronger terms were actually introduced long before Dawkins made his unbecoming remarks. Until I hear otherwise, I’m assuming (because it seems to me to be the best explanation barring more evidence) that Richard read the absurd and ridiculous commentary swirling around the internet and in typical Dawkins style blasted that, without actually watching the original video, making the assumption that the original video contained the same Dworkinesque tripe that so many have added to the discussion.

      • Profile photo of carlie
        July 7, 2011 at 3:39 pm —

        That’s what’s so weird about it, though – Richard doesn’t normally blast off comments in the middle of a big internet fight. It seems fairly rare for him to step into the fray, so to do so seemed to indicate that he felt very strongly about it (rather than being simply one in a long line of general comments).

  63. Profile photo of
    July 7, 2011 at 4:00 pm —

    Look just to make it real easy for everyone I looked up the last time this sort of tiff happened, with Richard Dawkins on the other side from the feminists. This was an “incident” at the American Atheists SE regional meeting in Huntsville, Alabama.

    Feminists made a huge fuss about nothing and tried to blackmail people into agreeing with their silliness and Richard Dawkins had nothing of it. It’s the same thing played out again five months later.

    The incident was also reported on at this forum here:
    http://skepchick.org/2011/02/ai-the-weaker-sex/

    Here it is at PZ Myers blog:
    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/02/feminist_hypersensitivity_or_m.php

    And in that case Dawkins even put a comment at his own web site here:
    http://richarddawkins.net/discussions/589290-the-million-dollar-sex-challenge

  64. Profile photo of turnipsaretasty
    July 7, 2011 at 4:16 pm —

    I’d like to provide my theory on why this has all blown up into a big thing.

    I believe the initial reason so much offense was caused by the story of the man in the elevator is a lot of men can put themselves in the position of this guy. Every single man has made an advance on a women and been rejected. Most men have at some point in their life been shy and awkward with the opposite sex and so it’s easy to see how a lot of men can relate to the awkward guy who plucks up the courage to ask a woman for coffee. I realise it’s the surrounding details that made the situation uncomfortable for you but we’re putting ourselves in his shoes, not yours.

    Now when you say this person sexually objectified you, you’re no longer referring to just him, but every man reading who has already related to him and no man wants to be accussed of sexism.

    • Profile photo of meko
      July 7, 2011 at 5:30 pm —

      The thing is, when you look at a person and see only what you can get from them without concerning yourself with their feelings and comfort, you are objectifying them.

      When a woman looks at a man like a dildo with a wallet, she’s objectifying him. It’s creepy.

      When a doctor looks at a patient as a stack of dollar bills, s/he is objectifying the patient.

      Objectifying people is always bad. If you objectify everyone, you’re a sociopath. If you objectify all women, you’re sexist.

      And if you objectified one woman one time, you did something wrong, you made a mistake. You were being sexist in that moment.

      If you have remorse for you actions and work to make sure it doesn’t happen again and help others to avoid the same mistakes, you’re a decent human beings.

      • Profile photo of
        July 7, 2011 at 6:50 pm —

        But saying men are all rapists is just fine is it? Saying men are “creepy” and justifying it by saying that any man could be a rapist is just fine?

        • Profile photo of Mercury Chaos
          July 7, 2011 at 8:04 pm —

          A rapist is someone who has committed rape. I don’t think anyone here has ever said that all men have committed rape.

          However, when a woman sees a man she doesn’t know approach her, she has no way of knowing whether he is rapist, or otherwise intends to harm her. Odds are he’s a perfectly decent person, but until you can find a foolproof way to spot people with ill intentions, women will have to err on the side of caution.

  65. Profile photo of
    July 7, 2011 at 4:42 pm —

    A comment over at the ERV site makes this accusation against Watson.

    I just thought of something weird about the elevator incident that I haven’t checked to see if anyone else brought up. She basically said “Hey guys, don’t come up to me at conference late at night when I’m alone and start flirting with me.” And yet, that is exactly how she met her ex-husband. Sounds a bit hypocritical to me.

    I don’t need to make this personal but it illustrates an excellent point which is that those who say the man acted immorally have been completely unable to say precisely how/why. If men were to stop approaching women, women would lose out and object. You can’t bitch when you happen to not like it and take advantage of it when it just happens you do like it. Well of course you can but you’ll look foolish.

  66. Profile photo of arkady
    July 7, 2011 at 4:49 pm —

    Richard Dawkins gives atheists a bad name. I often find myself wishing he’d stick to what he’s good at: evolutionary biology, and relating it to the public.

    He is a poor theologician, and The God Delusion is full of untruth and poor arguments.

    His response entirely missed the point.

    I get it that there are women elsewhere who have it worse than Rebecca did in the elevator, and you don’t even have to go to Sharia law countries to find them.

    But that isn’t the point – the point is about the atheist community, and Dawkins’ comments illustrate the very point Rebecca was making.

    There is a beautiful prayer: “Dear Lord, grant me strength to change the things I can change; the serenity to accept the things I cannot; and the wisdom to tell one from the other.”

    Standing alone in a lift with a sleepy young woman is not a place I can do anything to help the poor women who live under Sharia law, but I can help her feel more comfortable by respecting her personal space and her state of mind by keeping my distance and not offering to put her into vulnerable situations. (Or even engaging in conversation if she appears uncomfortable with that).

    Dear Richard,

    Boundaries: respect them.

    Also, more about evolutionary biology and let the creationists read them and draw their own conclusions, rather than try to tell them what to think.

    Regards,

    Arkady.

  67. Profile photo of Madfishmonger
    July 7, 2011 at 7:28 pm —

    Dear Professor Dawkins:
    CC: Internet

    Here is my assessment:

    Rebecca: So a guy was creepy at me in an elevator. Stop being creepy, guy.
    Internet: WTF HE WAS NOT CREPY U R STUPID OMG FEMINNIST!!
    Rebecca: wtf
    Prof. Dawkins: U R DUM WTF IS UR PROBLM U R NOT SUFFRING SHUT UP OMG FEMINNIST
    Rebecca: SERIOUSLY, WTF
    1/8 Internet: WE <3 DAWKINS FEMINNISTS R STUPD
    1/8 Internet: WE <3 REBECCA SHUT UP POOPYFACE I TOOK YOU OFF MY FRIENDS LIST
    1/8 Internet: Let's use this as an example of why it's important that we talk publicly about sexism, sexual abuse and assault, the treatment of women, and a trivialization of women's rights here and abroad. This is a conversation we should be having. We should do it rationally, we should admit when we're wrong, and we should move forward in a way that will make things better for all of us.
    1/2 Internet: LOOK AT THIS KITTEN CUDDLING A DUCKLING!!1
    1/8 Internet: *pron*
    Rebecca: *headdesk*

    I'm sure this is a problem we can somehow solve with kittens. I don't have a PHD, but I am an expert. In something.

    I am certain you have found my solutions helpful and enlightening. I look forward to their implementation.

    Sincerely,
    Madfishmonger

  68. Profile photo of littlerudiger
    July 7, 2011 at 8:15 pm —

    As a fellow skeptic, I understand that human beings are, alas, animals. Just the same as dogs sleeping at our feet, lions roaming the savannah, and even those fuzzy little bees that keep away those silent moments sitting on the porch.

    So, in order to accomplish what feminism wants, at least according to reading the posts here, we would hae to cut off all the men’s testicals. Because men, due to our nature and chemical balances, will always hit on women. Yes, it’s possible to be “less creepy” (objective? subjective? what’s the standard here?) and everyone has a responsibility to respect the feelings of their fellow human being.

    But the mission to get men to stop hitting on women will fail. Men sexualize women. Women sexualize men. If you don’t sexualize other people, then maybe you have some deep repression going on, because from all the people I’ve met in my life, everyone likes to sexualize – and it’s also really, really fun!

    • Profile photo of punchdrunk
      July 7, 2011 at 9:23 pm —

      Who is on a mission to end sex? That’s what you get from this?

    • Profile photo of meko
      July 9, 2011 at 2:11 am —

      Somehow intimacy is negotiated in other communities without half the problems the atheist community seems to experience.

      Perhaps it is because of gender balance or some behavioral differences within the group, but social norms observed elsewhere, such as personal space, don’t seem to be observed as much at atheist events.

      Men and women want to pursue intimacy everywhere. But not taking common steps to make sure that everyone welcomes that pursuit and feels safe only shuts people down.

    • Profile photo of Sethra
      July 9, 2011 at 11:03 am —

      Yes, because a call for respecting boundaries is a call to completely eliminate sex.

      That’s as extreme as declaring that all men are rapists.

      Humans are no longer unthinking animals. We have higher brain functions. If you can’t be bothered to use those higher brain functions to help regulate yourself in social situations and interactions, don’t blame other people for calling you out on your behavior — especially when your behavior is disrespectful toward the person with whom you’ve decided you’re going to interact, and even more specifically when that person has made it clear that he or she isn’t interested in intimacy.

      I understand that many of us are socially awkward (I still am), but that doesn’t excuse me from paying attention to how my actions affect others. It doesn’t excuse anyone else here either.

  69. Profile photo of Mercury Chaos
    July 7, 2011 at 8:34 pm —

    Dr. Dawkins,

    I have a lot of respect for you. Reading “The God Delusion” got me off the proverbial agnostic fencepost and onto the side of atheism, for which I am grateful.

    I wrote my thoughts on this whole thing in a blog post: http://mercurychaos.blogspot.com/2011/07/wager.html I’m sure you’re very busy, but I thought I’d throw it out there anyway.

  70. Profile photo of steveo
    July 7, 2011 at 9:41 pm —

    I am so bummed. I registered for TAM in March. I also am bringing three people who are not only new to TAM, but the skeptical movement as a whole.

    If it was today, I would never register – and certainly never bring company.

    If this is the discourse at the convention, we have all lost. This is some seriously sad shit.

    To Rebecca:

    My daughter and yourself (and several friends) had a few drinks at the bar at TAM last year, and I understand that you have serious problems with Dr. Dawkins point of view.

    However, please think about the damage that bringing this vitriol into the skeptical discourse has caused, and will cause. Please!

    And I am not talking about vitriol from you. Your protest is reasonable discussion of a vital topic. But LOOK! See what’s going on around you. Seriously, you are the only person who can stomp this fucking fire out.

    I have four daughters who I hope to see conquer their world. Two are old enough to have embraced skepticism, and my oldest will be at TAM again this year.

    Please, do the right thing with this.

    • Profile photo of lygypsy
      July 8, 2011 at 9:39 am —

      Wait – I must be confused. Are you saying that Rebecca should sit down and shut up for the good of the movement? But not the ergregious sexists, misogynists and straight up hate-mongers? Since you talk about your daughters conquering the world, I have to be misreading you.

      At least I hope.

      Cuz, if not, your comment makes absolutely no sense.

    • Profile photo of meko
      July 9, 2011 at 2:15 am —

      New people have a right to know what these events are like.

      I wish someone had warned me that I’d be treated as “new meat” at atheist events if I didn’t bring a male escort. I would have planned accordingly. As it was, going single was most unpleasant.

      Lots of people show up to atheist events once and never come back. Now the groups know why. Either the groups can change, or women will leave. Insisting that no one talk about it won’t solve the problem. It just cons people into wasting their time visiting an event they wouldn’t like.

    • Profile photo of Sethra
      July 9, 2011 at 11:20 am —

      As both a woman and the mother of a young daughter, I’m appalled that you think teaching women to defer to a man *when the man is in the wrong* in order to settle a discussion is the right example to provide them.

      I’ve been to one convention. One. You know why I’ll never attend another? Because men wouldn’t back off and let me participate equally in the discussions. To them, I was a tourism destination for their genitalia and nothing more.

      If you want your daughters to be treated as equals, you’d do better with focusing your irritation toward men who get upset when we tell them we don’t like being harassed by sexual propositions every five minutes. Or being touched inappropriately in public. Or having them “accidentally” bump into us with their groins. Or having a serious discussion with a man we don’t know and having him take a step toward us and invade our personal space in order to look down our shirts without invitation.

      We get that men have sex drives. So do women! In fact, many of us enjoy sex…and my husband certainly appreciates my enthusiasm for the activity. I’m not sure why everyone keeps insisting that a man must have some sort of right to be able to proposition a woman at any time and in any location *he* deems acceptable in order to make sure people keep having sex. That’s like saying if we allow one bookstore to close, we’ll never obtain more books to read.

  71. Profile photo of Mjhavok
    July 7, 2011 at 9:57 pm —

    Dear Richard,

    Please write more about evolution and science and less about gender/sexual politics.

    Kind Regards,

    Steven

  72. Profile photo of shellyatom21
    July 7, 2011 at 9:57 pm —

    I went to bi-annual conventions and other assemblies for years as a Jehovah’s Witness. Not once did I ever experience anything that I could recognize as sexual harassment. In fact, those meetings were something akin to a ‘safe haven’ from the outside world where we could relax and not have to worry about being sexualised or objectified or have to knock back advances (generally subjugated, on the other hand… but that’s another issue).

    From my reading of atheist and skeptic books and blogs I had gotten a perception of the community as generally rational, reasonable, friendly, respectful — basically the cream of society’s deep inquirers.

    But I was frankly not prepared for the sheer level of harassment that takes place at any skeptic or atheist convention.

    I have a feeling that a high majority of men who attend have poor social skills and are generally not well-adjusted to society. It makes sense they are atheists – the dissenting worldview from mainstream society.

    But I doubt many of them are actually skeptics, and I extend that to many of the commenters on skeptical websites. Many of them are perhaps formerly religious, perhaps not, but while they may call themselves skeptics many are clearly still black-and-white thinkers who defend held views with great aggression.

    When you have socially awkward black-and-white-thinking males being told that their behaviour is inappropriate – but moreover their ATTITUDES need adjusting – then you have a thousand heels digging in all over the blogosphere.

    Anyway, I guess the take-home message is that everyone is acting less civil right now than the Christians I used to know and I’m just noticing that and including it in my view of the whole movement in general.

    The tenets of skepticism itself have nothing to do with this, and while I may not involve myself as actively with this community until I see some improvement, I’m not automatically going to go back to Christianity just because I’ve had disappointing experiences at skeptic-type conferences.

    • Profile photo of smudge
      July 8, 2011 at 5:34 pm —

      I have to chime in with my agreement here.

      I actually think the chewing gum analogy is not that far off, if you include the other person in the elevator sticking his gum on the end of RD’s nose and saying it’s for later if he wants it. If it happens once and nothing bad happens after you say you don’t chew gum but thanks, it’s not so bad. No one really got hurt.

      If every time you go to your local atheist meeting eight or nine people do it to you and no one speaks out, you’re going to rightly assume that the other people there don’t have a problem with such behavior. Even if you find the other stuff taking place at the meeting to be interesting, you’re going to warn others before they go that they’ll likely end up with chewing gum on the end of their nose a bunch of times. Ultimately you may decide you’re sick of people putting their chewing gum on the end of your nose and not go to those meetings any more.

      Elevator Guy was assuming he was in a space where it’s okay to stick chewing gum on the end of someone else’s nose. Other things about the environment have told him such behavior is tolerated and possibly expected. The people who do stick around are generally the ones who don’t mind it enough to stop attending. Shoot, if I want to chew other people’s used gum after it’s been on the end of my nose, it’s the place to go!

      Some people are saying they wish they could go to atheist meetings and not worry much about the whole gum thing.

  73. Profile photo of Madfishmonger
    July 7, 2011 at 11:11 pm —

    Now that I have gone back and read the other letters, I feel mine is ridiculously out of place, you are so all so eloquent and well-spoken.

    • Profile photo of Artemisia
      July 7, 2011 at 11:44 pm —

      I thought your letter was awesome. I think it really captures how I feel when I see the over the top reaction from so many to a simple request to be mindful of women’s feelings.

      • Profile photo of Madfishmonger
        July 8, 2011 at 10:34 am —

        That’s just how I see people fighting on the internet. They don’t really read or rake the time or stop to think before they react. They might as well just write it like that and save us the trouble.

    • Profile photo of Trotter Jelly
      July 8, 2011 at 12:05 am —

      No, the letter is great. It captures all the white noise in this discussion wonderfully. Plus, after catching up on the comments here, it reminds me to go look at kittens.

      • Profile photo of Madfishmonger
        July 8, 2011 at 10:36 am —

        Kittens are very important. I think whenever you are about to fight with someone on the internet, you should take a break to look at pictures of kittens for a while.

    • Profile photo of punchdrunk
      July 8, 2011 at 12:09 am —

      It also captures the Descent Into Madness – how everything so quickly spiraled out of control. Which is the real wake-up call here, IMHO.

  74. Profile photo of rift
    July 7, 2011 at 11:38 pm —

    To the Honourable Sarah “Lalla” Ward;

    As a celebrity, perhaps more famous and well-known then your husband, you have attended many conventions. Conventions far larger audiences than any your husband have been too. You are part of the oldest running science fiction television program in history. It is still running today, nearly 48 years after it first started, and your husband had a guest appearance on it.

    You are a very small and petite woman. Certainly during these conventions (and probably outside of them) you have been made uncomfortable by the more zealous of your fans and thought some of them were creepy.

    You have read out many of your husband’s hate mail, some of these can be found on youtube. Yet your husband dismisses the rape threats and hate mail Rebecca Watson receives. Doesn’t that sound a bit hypocritical on his part?

    Can you not go back, watch Rebecca Watson’s original video about her encounter in Dublin and sympathize with her? Can you not then read your husband’s comments to her on PZ Myers’ blog and see that your husband trivialized Mrs. Watson’s uncomfortableness to the point of ruining his good name?

    Can you please explain to him how ‘just push the buttons’ is not always a good way to exit when you are being attacked by an assailant. Can you not tell him that rape does occur in the west? Can you not inform him about ‘Schrodinger’s Rapist’?

    If anybody can make him “get it” (his own words) surely you can do it.

    Sincerely

    Ron Theel

    • Profile photo of Finn McR
      July 8, 2011 at 1:34 am —

      @rift, “Yet your husband dismisses the rape threats and hate mail Rebecca Watson receives. Doesn’t that sound a bit hypocritical on his part?

      Can you not go back, watch Rebecca Watson’s original video about her encounter in Dublin and sympathize with her?”

      Whoa! Are you referring to some pathetic internet-troll “rape threats” or do you think that the possibly skeevy/possibly socially awkward “pass” *are* rape threats?? I’ve seen the video and took it to be an apprehension of an inappropriate/skeevy pass. I would lean to that interpretation over the “socially inept” interpretation, but only by playing the numbers, since I don’t know the parties involved personally. But there is a far cry from an inept/unwanted/skeevy pass and your bombastic, “rape threat.” I have to think that that speaks to the core of this big interwebs stink. If any male that makes an ill-timed / ill-conceived pass at a woman (or an inept, but genuine invitation) is construed by web 2.(full of morons)0 as a neanderthal, objectivizing, potential rapist, you have to expect a backlash; the same as if all women were characterized in some generalized way.

      I’m a big fan of RW’s and if she was weirded out by the behaviour, then ok. It’s good that it did not get beyond uncomfortable, it’s fine to complain about it as an example of a type of uncomfortable behavior. But (and I’ll have the hubris to assume that a lot of males feel this way) to paint what, on the evidence was at most a pretty skeevy pass, as some kind of sexual assault (which the interwebs “RW camp” seems to be suggesting occurred) seems to be blowing things up way out of proportion.

      On the other hand, RW did not come out and claim that all males are rapists, so folks should calm down on that as well.

      C’mon, let’s get back to questioning the idea that the Chinese had micro-fine steel needles to establish their claims about accupuncture… you know, stuff like that.

      Q: What did the WWI soldier say when the shell hit the foxhole he was just in by inches?
      A: Thank god I’m an atheist!

  75. Profile photo of Finn McR
    July 8, 2011 at 1:43 am —

    Oh for an edit function for my misplaced comma (evidence, was) (pass as).
    As for reasoning, I’ll have to own up to mistakes.

  76. Profile photo of zugabdu
    July 8, 2011 at 2:35 am —

    We men don’t think about our personal boundaries as much as women not because we don’t have them, but because they are much less likely to be violated. Rebecca Watson has no more obligation to give Elevator Guy the benefit of the doubt than I do to assume that the larger, stronger panhandler asking me for money in an enclosed, isolated space doesn’t have a weapon and will take no for an answer. Heck, a female panhandler approached me once in broad daylight on an open, fairly crowded street and started crowding in on my personal space when I declined to give her money. That was uncomfortable enough, and it was nowhere near the experience Rebecca described.

    What’s more, most of us have women in our lives we love and care about. I’ll bet that Richard Dawkins’s reaction to the hotel elevator incident would have been much different had he been told it happened to his own mother.

  77. Profile photo of randomexcess
    July 8, 2011 at 3:51 am —

    Dr. Dawkins,

    It is unfortunate that you chose to post a comment on PZ Myers’ blog. You really should have known the reputation of Skepchick. Just recently Rebecca Watson had a hysterical reaction to comments made by Dr. Krauss to The Daily Beast where he defended his friend Jeffery Epstein.

    This blog is her forum to promote rumor and innuendo when it suits her. She has proven herself to not be an objective and rational observer on the topic of sex. It is sad to see that she has chosen you to be next object of her venom. To my knowledge she has not apologized to Dr. Krauss and you should not expect an apology to be forthcoming.

    • Profile photo of Jack99
      July 8, 2011 at 5:55 am —

      You know, even as a loyal Skepchick man, that thread really bothered me badly too.

      1. I will not be seen in public to even appear by association to support a sex crime

      2. Yet will not join a witch-hunt against a man I do not know, based on second hand mainstream media evidence

      3. Krauss made the mistake, easily made, of identifying as a Scientist, which is something I learned long ago not to do, because it is AMAZING the constructs that people will put on that.

      Sometimes they think you are trying to show how intelligent you are, when really, as in this case I think, I was simply trying in an almost apologetic way to explain to others that my worldview was different.

      By this I mean not just what Skeptics call critical thinking, but a whole series of ingrained filters and mental tests that are almost automatic and which you cannot help but carry into everyday life.

      Yet Rebecca seemed to take Krauss’ mention of the fact that he was a Scientist to mean that he was invoking the Name of Grand Cannonical Science in his support (or something like that- In The Name of Science, I Command You!)

      Hence the title (iirc) “…(Krauss) Uses Science To Do It, Embarrasses Scientists Everywhere

      4. The last bit was a very sweeping statement, Rebecca does not speak for all the Scientists of the world, nor even among her followers. In fact she speaks only for herself.

      As I do, only my 2c worth. Sorry Rebecca, still respect you.

    • Profile photo of lygypsy
      July 8, 2011 at 9:33 am —

      Translation: Bitches, amirite? Why won’t they just shut up and do what I tell them?

      • Profile photo of Jack99
        July 8, 2011 at 12:05 pm —

        Not at all, and I agree with all your comments so far.
        See below.

  78. Profile photo of pyxlated
    July 8, 2011 at 4:29 am —

    I’ve been profoundly saddened by the whole affair. Not so much by the events which started it (which are, unfortunately, to be expected) but by the response that has followed. Whole communities of atheists and skeptics, which I had once assumed to be supportive of gender equality, have since displayed some of the most outrageous misogyny I’ve seen outside of the Republican national agenda. For the sin of disagreeing with the conclusions of Mr. Dawkins (probably for the first time ever) and for mildly supporting the right of a woman to say “No,” I have been cursed, threatened, ridiculed and treated like garbage by those who I have proudly stood beside in the past. I will think twice in the future before trusting my Atheist compatriots, and that is truly devastating to me. I never thought I’d find this kind of bigotry in the heart of a rationalist movement.

    • Profile photo of GeekGirlsRule
      July 8, 2011 at 4:09 pm —

      The very worst part about writing on subjects like rape, sexual assault, sexism and misogyny, is when people you like out themselves as apologists for those things.

      I’d rather deal with a dozen rape threat-ing trolls than one of my good male friends dismissing my experiences, and telling me to just settle down, what’s the big deal.

      • Profile photo of pyxlated
        July 8, 2011 at 4:44 pm —

        I can’t help but speculate about the origins of such vitriol. With nine out of any ten people I exchanged words with, I got the sense it had nothing to do with the actual scenario; rather, they were outraged that a woman would interpret their advances correctly, and then refuse them. It was an excuse to vent all the hatred they had for women who had dared to say no to them. (“What, is she too GOOD for me? That bitch. She should LIKE it when I try to fuck her. It’s a courtesy that I don’t just TAKE what I want. She should bloody well be thanking me for my chivalry.”)
        The other 10% seemed offended on principal that a woman should be intimidated by a male presence. (“It isn’t FAIR! You’re a hypocrite for noticing that I’m bigger, randier and more aggressive than you! You should trust me like you would another woman! Getting raped can’t be THAT bad.”) It was like watching a child throw a tantrum over a toy he hadn’t received for Christmas. All this, from boys and men who I had trusted and debated beside in the past.
        I confess, I feel a little lonelier than I did yesterday. I guess we still have a long way to go.

        • Profile photo of GeekGirlsRule
          July 8, 2011 at 6:57 pm —

          I blog about this kind of stuff a lot, and yeah, it’s kind of terrifying when you find out guys you’ve hung out ALONE with, feel that you have no right to say no to sexual advances.

          Or when they, themselves, describe something that can only BE categorized as rape (held her down while she said no and cried), and then demand to know who told you they were a rapist, as if they just hadn’t. Because they didn’t understand how what they did was rape.

          Seriously, sometimes I weep for the state of this world.

  79. Profile photo of mlowry
    July 8, 2011 at 4:30 am —

    Dear Richard Dawkins:

    You felt uncomfortable with the assumption that a man’s invitation for coffee in his hotel room represented a threat, and thought that the man should have been given the benefit of the doubt.

    You apparently believe that women should try harder to understand men. In your view, men and women should be treated equally—not just in principle, but in actual day-to-day practice. A woman receiving an invitation from strange man in an elevator should feel and react no differently than a man would if he were in the same situation. It is the woman’s responsibility to express her desires and limits openly and clearly. If she is not interested, she should assume the stranger’s intentions are friendly, and should decline the invitation gracefully. For the woman to assume that the man poses a potential threat is insulting to that man specifically, and to all men in general.

    I understand your position.

    Too many debaters—and particularly, many in the skeptical community—are so convinced of the righteousness of their cause that they sometimes neglect to show respect for their opponents, and instead concentrate on the mere facts and arguments of the debate. Worse still, erstwhile reasonable people tend to let resentment and rancor slip into their arguments when they feel slighted. The bitter sarcasm of your comment is an excellent example of this sort of unthinking lack of consideration of the feelings of others.

    Mister Dawkins, you should offer an apology for the tone of your comment, and make it clear that offending people was not your intention. Your should expand upon his ideas and make your position more clear. You should be honest about your feelings and experiences, and how they influence your point of view. You should acknowledge the obvious truth that millennia of evolution have given men and women not just different bodies, but also different minds, feelings, and behaviors. We do not live in a perfect world where no woman need fear assault, and no man the assumption of aggression. Pretending that we live in such a world does not make it so. You should express some compassion for those women who have been victimized, or who have felt powerless to stand up for themselves. Instead of chastising these women for whining or being meek, your should encourage women to give men the benefit of the doubt while still standing up for themselves.

    Dear Rebecca Watson:

    You felt uncomfortable with an unwelcome advance from a man you did not know, and believed that the man should have known that his overture would be perceived as sexually aggressive.

    You apparently believe that men should try harder to understand women. In your view, if a woman feels uncomfortable with a man, it is the man’s sole responsibility; and he should accept this responsibility gracefully, adapting his attitudes and behaviors to match the woman’s standards of what is acceptable. A man cannot assume that a harmless invitation will be perceived as harmless. He should know that many invitations will be perceived as sexual, that they will likely be unwelcome, and that they can therefore create a threatening environment for the woman. For him to act as though he is not aware of this is insulting to that woman in particular, and to all women in general.

    I understand your position too.

    Miss Watson, you should accept that despite your claimed feminism, you are espousing a society in which men and women have different rights and responsibilities. You should be honest about your feelings and experiences, and how they influence your point of view. Men and women are different in meaningful ways. Men initiate sexual contact far more frequently than women, and are inherently more aggressive. There are simple and well understood biological reasons for these differences. Both intuitive common sense, as well as many cultural traditions, build on the assumption that men and women think, feel, and act differently. You should not pretend that you support true equality of the sexes, and instead should lay out a reasoned justification for a system that treats the sexes differently. Furthermore, you should accept the inherent unfairness of such a system, particularly toward honorable, well-intentioned men. You should acknowledge that uncomfortable situations are a necessary part of life. You should express some understanding for men who through naïveté, optimism, or idealism choose an approach that makes you uncomfortable. You should encourage men to express their affection, admiration, and interest in ways that will be most appreciated.

    And now a few words to both of you:

    Your extreme and unwavering absolutist positions belie the hurt and offense you have endured. You both consider yourselves victims of the ignorance and intolerance of those who do not understand what it’s like to be in your position. Yet ironically, your are both willfully blind to the feelings of the other. Neither of you will understand the other until you let go of this absolutist way of thinking.

    You are both are skilled debaters, your abilities honed by years of argument. However, no amount of logical debate will resolve this issue. What’s required is for both of your to show some understanding of each other’s feelings and acknowledge the truth in each other’s positions. This will not only make your arguments more honest; it will also engender trust and respect, and make for a more fruitful and less acrimonious debate.

    Sincerely,
    Michael A. Lowry

    Adapted from my blog post, “Men, women, assumptions & offense. Thoughts on the Watson–Dawkins debate” http://blog.michael-lowry.com/2011/07/watsondawkins-debate-on-men-and-women.html

    • Profile photo of Artemisia
      July 8, 2011 at 5:25 am —

      It may be my own bias but I’m honestly not seeing what hurt and offence Dawkins has endured.

      • Profile photo of mlowry
        July 8, 2011 at 7:41 am —

        Mr. Dawkins has not explained his motivations or feelings. Because of this, we are left to guess based on what little information we have.

        It seems clear to me however that his choice to belittle Ms. Watson’s discomfort must have arisen out of more than just a desire to draw attention to the atrocities that befall women in other parts of the world. The bitter and sarcastic tone of his rant suggest to me that he takes this personally.

        My guess is that he Dawkins finds it insulting that men are held to a different standard than women. I think Dawkins is offended that men are expected to alter their behavior to adjust to what he sees as the irrational fears of the most sensitive women.

        Perhaps he sees this as akin to accommodating the most conservative among us—e.g., governments passing religiously-inspired laws, or publishers succumbing to pressure to block publication of “blasphemous’ articles or cartoons. Dawkins might see this as a demand to show deference to the easily offended.

        Perhaps he also finds it particularly galling and hypocritical that those calling for different standards of behavior for men and women are that same feminists who claim to support equality of the sexes.

        In any event, he did not communicate his position, feelings, or motivation clearly; and he showed a disappointing degree of insensitivity when he chose to let enmity and bitterness tarnish his remarks.

    • Profile photo of lygypsy
      July 8, 2011 at 9:48 am —

      So . . .. are you saying that biology is responsible and therefore problematic behavior can’t be altered?

  80. Profile photo of Grace
    July 8, 2011 at 6:05 am —

    Hey Rebecca.
    I’m a 20yo girl from Wellington, NZ.
    We had the pleasure of meeting when you were here for a talk.
    I’ve been listening to SGU since I was 16. You really made an impression on me as a young woman, and I consider you a hero and a role model. I was so happy to finally get a picture with you when you came!
    I just wanted to write a little note of support, to let you know that what you’re doing is important, that you are a role model for not only women of your generation, but my generation too and all to come.
    Following your blog has really opened my eyes to the antifeminist attitudes pervasive throughout the western society that I live in.
    It has also opened my eyes to something I was more skeptical of- sexist attitudes in the skeptical community.
    I have been a fan of Richard Dawkins and his battle against religion and anti-intellectualism since a young age, but I can now definitively say that I no longer consider him a role model, much less someone who I would like to meet.
    Thank you for the great work you do.
    Don’t give up.
    Sincerely, Grace.

  81. Profile photo of lygypsy
    July 8, 2011 at 9:14 am —

    Serious question: why is it *so important* to you to dismiss what women are saying? And so many women at that. What do you gain from gaslighting?

    • Profile photo of randomexcess
      July 8, 2011 at 10:13 am —

      Are you actually trying to make a point in your repeated snarky comments or are you just trolling this thread?

    • Profile photo of
      July 8, 2011 at 1:34 pm —

      Lygypsy, having read your vitriol throughout this thread, I think randomexcess is right, you are an angry troll with little meaningful point to make.
      .
      Judging by your splattering of leading empty rhetorical questions and angry spew, you have a major reading comprehension problem. There are courses you can take to fix that you know.

    • Profile photo of AstroCJ
      July 9, 2011 at 6:53 am —

      Having flicked through your comments and the comments of John Greg, I pronounce you “Not the troll”. A little passionate, maybe.

  82. Profile photo of 2bsirius
    July 8, 2011 at 10:57 am —

    Dear Professor Dawkins,

    Rebecca Weston was expressing a misgiving which a lot of women have experienced: Feeling unsafe late at night in a confined or dark space in the presence of someone they don’t know.

    I do not think that the correlation you draw between her situation terrible plight of those who are subjected to genital mutilation is a valid one, however. Yes, every concerned person should be appalled by this barbaric practice, and should do what is within their power to stop it. [ Médecins Sans Frontières, Amnesty International and other groups have strong programs to stop this practice.] But your comment demonstrates, I think, an uncharacteristic lack of judgement on your part. There is an implicit accusation from you that Ms. Weston must be callous or indifferent to worry about her own safety when the plight of others is so much greater. If these situations overlap, it is to the extent that women, like men,have a right to be autonomous.

    Thank you for taking the time to read my opinion on this.

    Sincerely,
    Karen

  83. Profile photo of DanSRose
    July 8, 2011 at 10:57 am —

    The issue is of RD’s comment and how dismissive it was.
    Rebecca finished a talk on how women can be treated as objects for ogling and sexual advances in this community of skeptics with the theme of “Don’t do that” and commented her on Skepchick on the bizarreness that it happened to her, again, that same night after the speech.
    RD posted his comments, which were belittling and dismissive. He is one of the most popular figureheads of the Atheist/Skeptical movement. He has stated that this is inclusive one, as where in open dialogue and investigation could misogyny be? Either he doesn’t understand that what he did was an act of aggression towards women or does but doesn’t care. That is the issue.

  84. Profile photo of custador
    July 8, 2011 at 11:19 am —

    Dear Richard,

    The fact that you didn’t even bother to engage Rebecca or attempt to understand male privilege before you vented your spleen in sarcastic style, should be an embarrassment to a man as manifestly intelligent as yourself. For better or worse, there are people who follow your example, and hold you up as an authority who can generally relied upon to be in the right. In this case, those people are wrong.

    Speaking as a white, male, straight, middle-class man: I sincerely hope that you are not representative of the rest of my demographic.

    We live in a world where, if you are white, male, straight or middle-class, you have an advantage over people who are not, in terms of things that it is socially acceptable for you to do, say and be. You automatically have the assumed right to disregard the feelings of those who are not not white, male, straight or middle-class. You are likely to be paid more, have access to more and better opportunities for advancement and be the beneficiary of discriminatory behaviour (conscious and unconscious). In the USA, this is all true for Christians over non-Christians, too – a fact of which I’m sure you are aware.

    In this specific case, Elevator Guy exercised his male privilege by being totally unaware (or uncaring) of the impact of his actions on a woman. If you can’t accept or understand that Rebecca had every right to call him out for being unaware or uncaring of the impact of his actions, or if you really think he did nothing wrong (morally and ethically), then you are also exercising male privilege.

    You owe Rebecca an apology.

    Regards,

    Custador – White, male, straight, middle-class atheist, trying not to exercise his privilege more than he can help it.

  85. Profile photo of Jack99
    July 8, 2011 at 12:02 pm —

    Was interrupted there. The above difference in opinion shows that I am not Rebecca’s private army, and that alternative points of view are welcome on Skepchick, but I support Rebecca’s view on the current matter. At least, men should understand that many women feel vulnerable, show a little bit of empathy, and put a lid on their crass behaviour. Dawkins has been a prat in apparently dismissing this problem, and should apologise.
    However given the context of his comments and the blog he was on, this is open to some interpretation and I hope that Rebecca could accept an apology so we can all get on with smacking the fundies.

  86. Profile photo of Jack99
    July 8, 2011 at 12:29 pm —

    Damn, that was meant to go with my first comment – too tired for this…

  87. Profile photo of earthling
    July 8, 2011 at 1:24 pm —

    Dear Prof. Dawkins,

    Your reaction to Rebecca’s comments was essentially ‘Woman! Why can’t you just be grateful that you’re not being force-married / genitally mutilated / &c!’

    Um, no. Because you see that is the same as telling black people in the US that racism is a non-issue because slavery is over. Or telling gay people to stop campaigning for marriage rights because they could be living in Uganda, amirite?

    Or telling atheists that they shouldn’t worry their heads about faith schools or Bishops in the House of Lords because we could live in a country were atheism was punishable by death.

    It’s essentially saying, ‘Okay you have a certain amount of equality now, you’re not getting *severely* oppressed any more, and that should be enough for you.’ But it isn’t – it isn’t enough until there is *complete* equality.

    It won’t be enough until the experience of a woman alone with a stranger in an elevator at 4am is as similar as possible to the experience of a man alone with a stranger in an elevator at 4am. In other words, when women feel free from the fear of sexual violence.

    So yes women have to speak up about *everything* they feel is relevant to this goal. Even if it seems trifling to you or anyone else.

    Also – re the elevator as an enclosed space. I’m sorry but how can you think it isn’t? Even if you press the button for the next floor, it takes a little while for the elevator to reach it. During that time a person could be assaulted. Imagine that the aggressor doesn’t want to take no for an answer, so presses the emergency button and stops the elevator? What can the other person do then? Oh and hotel corridors aren’t generally ‘crowded’ especially at 4am.

    Please take the time to think about this properly and not just have a knee-jerk reaction.

    Many thanks,

    Earthling

  88. Profile photo of laurance
    July 8, 2011 at 3:31 pm —

    Initially I was supportive of Rebecca, and I agreed that it’s wrong for men to sexualize women. I was down on Elevator Guy, considering it likely that he had some element of sex on his mine.

    Imangine my surprise when I discovered that Skepchick puts out a calendar, and apparently some of those women are pretty sexual. It appears to me that the Skepchick herself sexualizes women.

    I still think Elevator Guy was a doofus. I still think Richard Dawkins doesn’t get it, and I’m disappointed in him.

    But I’m losing my sympathy for Rebecca, too. Don’t put out calendars containing some sexualized images and then gripe about sexualization.

    • Profile photo of Rebecca Watson
      July 8, 2011 at 3:36 pm —

      We haven’t put out a calendar (of men or women) in four years, in part because people are so quick to slut shame the women (only), and I got fed up dealing with it.

      FYI, a woman has every right to own, celebrate, and display her own body without getting propositioned for sex, fondled, assaulted, and raped.

      • Profile photo of mlowry
        July 8, 2011 at 6:11 pm —

        Dear Ms. Watson,

        No one has a right not to be propositioned. Everyone has a right to say no. Perhaps this distinction is pertinent to the disagreement at hand.

        Regards,
        Michael Lowry

        • Profile photo of punchdrunk
          July 8, 2011 at 7:06 pm —

          So, women who do not go to conventions and meetings to be propositioned should stay away? Because they’re saying men treat them like they’re at a singles’ bar. Or worse. And that’s not a problem to be addressed?

          • Profile photo of meko
            July 9, 2011 at 2:28 am

            Well, I’m not going to any more atheist events without a male escort. Because of The Implication: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MZ1lc6KASWg

          • Profile photo of mlowry
            July 9, 2011 at 2:43 am

            Women cannot turn their discomfort at being propositioned into a right not to be propositioned.

            Women—and people in general—have to learn to get comfortable saying no. They’ll benefit from this ability not just declining advances from those they don’t fancy, but also in their friendships, family life, and business relationships.

            The keys to saying no effectively are self-confidence, empathy, and clear communication. The more one does it, the better one gets at it, and the less of a big deal it becomes.

          • Profile photo of phyraxus
            July 9, 2011 at 1:01 pm

            When they say, “no” means “no.” Perhaps they should think, “coffee” means “coffee.” I mean, really, not all men are liars.

        • Profile photo of Sethra
          July 9, 2011 at 11:40 am —

          “No one has a right not to be propositioned.”

          No one has a right to force unwanted attention on others.

          One person’s rights end where what he or she does directly affects another human being. Pushing unwanted sexual attention on someone directly affects them, thus no one has a “right” to do it.

          • Profile photo of phyraxus
            July 9, 2011 at 1:43 pm

            RD’s response wasn’t even directed at RW, but all the raving loonies at PZ’s blog. Reading his statement out of context does him no justice. His second response clarified his point, but at that point, everyone only sees the word “gum.” He was trying to provide perspective to the pharynguloids, not “worse stuff elsewhere, so stop complaining” logical fallacy, because they were making mountains out of molehills.

            The listening to the current The skeptic podcast, and RW is pretending that RD’s response is only to her and not in PZ’s forum. You respond to a forum, because you are responding to the people in it. If he were writing his response ONLY to RW, he would have posted it on her site. RW is being extremely intellectually dishonest.

          • Profile photo of mlowry
            July 9, 2011 at 6:10 pm

            It’s sometimes difficult to find the right balance between doing what what one feels is right, and deferring to those who might be offended.

            Should one always honor the restrictions on one’s words and actions sought by those who claim to be offended? I’d wager that most skeptics would find this idea distasteful.

        • Profile photo of phyraxus
          July 9, 2011 at 12:59 pm —

          Good thing asking someone to coffee is considered speech. Where I live, speech is free. Thank goodness for that, and it remains free, regardless of whose sensibilities you may offend (religious zealot or not.)

          • Profile photo of punchdrunk
            July 9, 2011 at 8:14 pm

            That’s a lot of words to say “No, I don’t want more women at our functions, and I don’t care what’s keeping them away.”

          • Profile photo of mlowry
            July 10, 2011 at 5:08 am

            There are two ways to read Ms. Watson’s statement “Don’t do that.”:
            1 A kind word of advice to men considering talking to her, limited to that particular situation in the elevator at 4am or ones very much like it.
            or
            2. A demand not only of how to treat her specifically and limited to that situation, but also a broader statement of what is right and wrong when talking to women in general.

            If you interpret her words in the first way, it’s hard to find any fault with them. Every woman has a right to communicate her wishes and preferences to those around her.

            However, I can understand why some might have interpreted her words in the second way. Many people go quite easily from “this makes me uncomfortable” to “this is wrong, not just for me but for everyone.” Religious people do this a lot! E.g., “You must show respect for my religious ideas; if you don’t, it will greatly offend me and my god!”

            If Ms. Watson’s comments were intended as a broader commentary regarding not just that particular situation late at night in an elevator, but also on how men should talk to women in general, then this would probably explain some of the push-back she has gotten.

            Each man is different. Each woman is different. Every situation is unique, and general rules are blunt tools applied to delicate tasks. I can understand men who might have been perplexed by Ms. Watson’s words. I think she might better have expressed herself by starting from a position of empathy and understanding for those she wished to inform. Here’s and example of how Ms. Watson might have communicated her advice more effectively:

            “The situation in the elevator made me very uncomfortable. I felt trapped, and intimidated by the stranger. Of course I don’t know what his actual intentions were—perhaps he really only wanted to invite me for coffee and conversation—but the situation felt sexually threatening to me. If he was trying to pick me up after hearing my talk earlier in the evening, then he was being disrespectful, and was way out of line. In any event, it seemed to me that he was ignoring my statement that I was tired and wanted to sleep. Perhaps I should have countered by inviting him for a coffee the next morning in the hotel bar. I mean maybe I really had nothing to fear! But the fact is, I was so uncomfortable with the situation that I was just glad to get away from him.”

            “Men, please try to show some understanding of what it’s like to be a woman. Even if you’re a true gentleman, remember that there are a lot of assholes out there. We women have to deal with them all the time. You’ll go a long way toward showing that you’re not one of the assholes if you show a little consideration. This means sometimes forgoing making an invitation if it might make the woman uncomfortable. Your intentions are surely important, but they’re not the only thing that’s important. The situation—and the other person of course—are also very important. If the man had invited me for a coffee the next morning in the hotel bar, I would have been much less like to have taken it as a sexual overture. This alone would have made me more comfortable. Just use a bit of common sense, and do your best to read the other person and the situation before acting. Women everywhere thank you in advance!”

            Men clearly need to be conscious of how the communicate with women. I think women could improve how they communicate with men too. Remember that unlike in a debate, the goal should not be to prove the other wrong. The goaal is to communicate your thoughts and wishes in a way that the other will understand.

      • Profile photo of rift
        July 8, 2011 at 8:40 pm —

        I can’t even believe the calendars have become part of this mess. ARRRGGGHHHH.

        BTW- I miss them, both the male and female ones. They were hilarious. And so harmless that I believe Mrs. Bad Astronomer had one over her desk in full view of Little Astronomer. (who is a girl btw before the morons jump on that)

      • Profile photo of laurance
        July 8, 2011 at 10:47 pm —

        Now I’m frustrated as the dickens. I responded, and when I went to look at Rebecca’s response to me, I found that all I had written was gone. I don’t know if I can reconstruct it. I hate modern techhnology. Let me try.

        Yes, women can celebrate their bodies. And men should be expected to not be driven to a frenzy of rape (I’m reading about Muslim men’s behavior now, and how it’s considered the fault of women for not wearing a burqua).

        Oh, and spesking of burqas, I was reading just the other day that being covered by a burqua isn’t enough to keep women from being raped or abused. I know this is true.

        But is a calendar ONLY a display and not a sexualization? C’mon! Sexy calendars are sexy. I’m really having a problen here. And is sexualization all that bad anyway? Sometimes, but not necessarily always. Rather than being all defensive about “celebrating” bodies, how about admitting that sometimes bodies are indeed sexy and sexualized? Hey! *People* are sexy! (Richard Dawkins is an aging hunk, even if he’s an asshole.)

        Granted, Elevator Guy (has he come out yet, or is he hiding in terror? Do we know who he is?) is still a doofus, and Richard Dawkins is clueless and needs educated.

        Elevator guy is still a doofus, and sexy Richard Dawkins is so clueless and out of it.

        But I still have some questioning about this sexuality business in light of the sexy skeptic calendars that used to be put out.

        • Profile photo of rift
          July 9, 2011 at 1:12 am —

          Hey, Richard Dawkins got nothing on James Randi.

      • Profile photo of laurance
        July 10, 2011 at 12:46 pm —

        Uh, what am I misperceiving here?

        “We haven’t put out a calendar (of men or women) in four years, in part because people are so quick to slut shame the women (only), and I got fed up dealing with it.”

        According to Google, you had a 2010 calendar last year. That’s not four years ago. I see guidelines on your website saying that while pictures are not of overt nudity, they are to be “titillating” and “heart-stoppingly sexy”. Just today I saw on Planet Atheism that Jen McCreight is posing for your new calendar, claims your calendars will go on sale in about a month.

        Looks as if you’ve changed your mind and decided to put out calendars again. Or in fact never stopped putting out calendars at all. Yet you didn’t say so. Makes me wonder what’s going on here. Why did you create the impression that you aren’t doing calendars any more?

        “FYI, a woman has every right to own, celebrate, and display her own body without getting propositioned for sex, fondled, assaulted, and raped.”

        I’ve been thinking about this. Yes, I agree that men do not have any right to proposition, handle, molest, assault, rape, torment women.

        By the same token, women don’t have the right to sidle up to P.Z. Myers, squeeze his love handles and snuggle up against his beard, never mind what a cute chunkyhunk studmuffin teddy bear he is (and there are women who really like that type of guy).

        Nobody has the right to invade other people’s bodies, or cause anxiety and distress.

        What’s been on my mind is this “celebration and display of bodies”. I’m juxtaposing this with the fact that you’ve said you don’t like being “sexualized”.

        But…but…a salient part of bodies IS sexuality and hormones. If you “celebrate” (whatever the hell that means) bodies, why aren’t hormones and sexuality included? Not all, but some of those calendar pictures are sexy, titillatingly and heart-stoppingly so. Why are you pretending that titillating and heart-stopping sexiness isn’t sexual and sexualizing?

        And why is sexualization necessarily a nasty thing anyway? Why can’t sexualization be lovely and enriching?

        Notice that I did NOT say that assault and abuse are in any way desirable.

        (And while I’m ranting here, I hear tell that women in burquas get raped. Don’t have to be sexy to be raped and hurt.)

    • Profile photo of rift
      July 8, 2011 at 8:36 pm —

      Those calendars were to raise charity, sheesh.

      And there were also Skeptdude calendars to with Phil Plait, PZ Meyers, and James Randi in them.

      A woman, and a man, (no matter what body type or level of perceived from society attractiveness) has every right to celebrate their body and show it off. You can’t see the difference???

      Are Phil, PZ, and Randi male sluts? Were they ever called male sluts? Have you lost your respect to them for posing?

      My fiancee, for reasons I cannot fathom, finds me sexy physically. Does that mean she has sexually objectified me, even though we met online and she fell in love with my brain?

      I’m a sickened that people have brought up those calendars in some kind of hamfisted attack on Rebecca. This one issue has me the most livid of all of them in this firestorm of stupidity.

      BTW, have you even seen the calendars??? They were very tongue in cheek, they were ‘PG’ at most, and I was sad to see them go.

  89. Profile photo of moralnihilist
    July 8, 2011 at 3:52 pm —

    Professor Dawkins:

    I’m not writing this in the expectation that you’ll see it. There must be thousands of letters dealing with this subject in circulation now. But nevertheless I am writing this to give myself sort of a cathartic soothing on this subject.

    My feelings on your post regarding Rebecca Watson’s experience are not outrage, anger, or even righteous indignation. Instead, I am disappointed. I’m disappointed that you fail to see the problem with what happened.

    This all started because Ms. Watson decided to devote a minute of a video blog entry to the experience in the elevator and express her disapproval of it. She said that it was inappropriate and creeped her out. She did not say that this man should be punished. She did not say he is a rapist. She did not say her experience was on par with that of a muslim woman. All she said was that she found the man’s approach unpleasant. She expressed her feelings on the incident and moved on.

    I’m honestly puzzled at your characterization of the incident as having “zero bad.” It’s almost as if you’re saying Ms. Watson isn’t entitled to her feelings. In fact, it seems that’s exactly what you’re saying. Rebecca Watson shouldn’t be allowed to feel uncomfortable when she is pursued into an elevator at 4 o’clock in the morning by a man who invites her up to what amounts to be his bedroom for “coffee.” Since you asked for an explanation of how this is bad, I shall do my best.

    When you were introduced to your wife for the first time, was the first sentence out of your mouth “I find you very interesting, would you like to go up to my bedroom for coffee?” No? Why not? Because asking a woman to your bedroom upon meeting her is generally viewed my most with any kind of social grace as forward and rude.

    Let’s say the gentleman involved was indeed only interested in having coffee and a discussion. Why would he pick such an incredibly inconvenient time and location to do so? Why wouldn’t he invite her to a public place–the hotel lobby for instance–and at a much more convenient time–later that morning or early in the afternoon? Why would this man insist on a discussion right that instant in a private place that basically amounts to his bedroom, if he had no interest in a sexual liaison? I wasn’t born yesterday. I can read between the lines, so can Ms. Watson, and so can you.

    Additionally, this man apparently followed Ms. Watson to the elevator after she had told her group she was going to bed. He was in the audience during her panel discussion where she had explicitly stated her distaste for random sexual propositions. Despite all this, he propositioned her KNOWING her feelings toward such a thing. He completely DISREGARDED Ms. Watson’s explicitly stated desires and attempted to overrule them in order to coerce her into satisfying his need for conversation, or sex, or both. His behavior was out of line.

    Ms. Watson’s reaction was appropriate. She did not name names nor describe the man in any way. Nobody outside of those present know who he his. She merely focused on the behavior, and stated, not that this is proof that all men are sexist pigs, not that it demonstrates a problem with sexism in the atheist community, not even that she had a reasonable fear for her life or safety, but only that it made her uncomfortable. Given the circumstances, I and most others with a modicum of social conscience agree that she is entitled to feel uncomfortable.

    As thanks for her wholly appropriate initial response, some in the atheist community proceeded to throw her under the bus for daring to suggest that inappropriate behavior across gender lines might possibly be a problem (though in her original video she never suggests such a thing). She responded to those statements in a fair manner (‘I’m glad that she hasn’t experienced it, but me and many others have’) and was further derided by those who apparently believe she should have acquiesed to the man in the elevator’s desires, for some reason.

    Yes, it was only words that were exchanged. There was no physical altercation. You said that because only words were exchanged and no violence, that no wrong was done. One could make the same argument that atheists are not oppressed in any way, shape or form in the United States, and that we should all just shut up about it because we don’t live in Saudi Arabia. Why the double standard, Professor?

  90. Profile photo of steveh
    July 8, 2011 at 5:04 pm —

    Dearest Professor Dawkins,

    I understand your, ahem, issues with women’s rights. I have read Dr. Roughgarden’s “The Genial Gene.” I imagine it was difficult to see your life’s work so well decimated by the new evidence she collected and presented so eloquently. I know most of the scienceblogs crowd dislikes her; probably because she’s a MTF transgender (otherwise I’d see no point in mentioning her transition as they tend to do)challenging their worldview. But that is no reason to blow up at Ms. Watson.

    I believe that you still hold on to the notion that men are more fit by spreading their seed far and wide, and thus a man may be justified in making propositions in a confined space to someone he has never spoken to before. At 4 am. Presumably after the target had been drinking. (I do have to wonder if he was watching her from across the bar, and waited to follow her up in the elevator.) But Dr. Roughgarden quite thoroughly challenged that assumption, and I do hope that you intend to invoke a period of self-reflection, and how you own actions and worldview have shaped your interpretations of data.

    But, nah, you’re a professor. And, as many of us know, for too many folks, the search for truth ends at the promotion to full professor.

    Keep reachin’ for the stars.

    Your pal,

    steveh

  91. Profile photo of tol32
    July 8, 2011 at 9:44 pm —

    I frankly don’t see why a lot of guys are kicking up a huge stink over this. What Rebecca didn’t say, please correct me if I’m wrong Rebecca.

    All men are rapists.
    What happened to Rebecca in the elevator is equivalent to what happens to women in extreme Islamist cultures or regimes.
    Seduction is forbidden.
    Asking a member of the opposite sex out for coffee is forbidden.

    For FSM’s sake relax and get some perspective you bastards! This is coming from a bloke to other blokes, this is may be the biggest and stupidest flame fest since the Great Balrog Wings war of ’97-’98.

    Someone mildly requests “don’t do that” and half the WWW spits the freaking dummy and chucks an epic tantrum. Idiotic!

  92. Profile photo of meagan
    July 9, 2011 at 7:39 am —

    I had to create an account just to reply to this utter nonsense.

    I am a 26 year old atheist female and I find this whole situation to be ludicrous.

    The question here is not whether the invitation for coffee was a proposition for sex or not, because men and women BOTH can and do get propositioned for sex. It’s whether this woman was ever in a position where she could not REFUSE said proposition. And clearly, the fact that she didn’t go back to this guy’s hotel room and get raped is proof enough that yes, she had a choice.

    This isn’t feminism. This isn’t an issue of equal rights. This is an issue of a privileged status for women; no man could make a similar claim about being asked for coffee in an elevator by a woman and get nearly this amount of attention. Men can and do get sexually assaulted and raped – by women. And the issue is hugely under-reported because no one – not even law enforcement – takes a man seriously when he says that a woman had sexual contact with him against his will. The fact is that this would have been a non-issue had the roles been reversed or a non-issue if it had been a woman who asked her for coffee.

    Women who agree with this nonsense are allowing themselves to be part of a culture of victim-hood. This thread and similar across the blogosphere are full of women who claim “you don’t know what it’s like to be a woman, I do “x” “y” and “z” so that I mitigate my chances of sexual assault.” First of all – WHY do you think every man you walk past in the evening wants to sexually assault you? To me, this is an illogical demonizing of the male sex. Just because the majority of assault – sexual or otherwise – is perpetrated by men doesn’t follow that every man who you encounter is simply biding his time until you come around in the dark. Why revolve your life around something that MIGHT happen to you? We, as women, are socialized into these irrational fears of bad men in the dark – so we’d better just stay home, like good girls, where we’re safe and nothing bad can happen. It’s a lovely self-perpetuating mechanism of societal control. This whole victimization of women is akin to the hysteria surrounding child abduction. Look at the statistics – the odds of your kid getting abducted are 1 in a million. And if your kid IS abducted, the most likely abductor is someone you know. But everyone is taught to fear the strange, creepy guy with the candy.

    I agree with Richard. The fact that women in Western culture can cry about – and be showered with undue attention for – being asked to have coffee with someone (regardless of the implications) shows just how privileged and out of touch with the rest of the world we are.

    • Profile photo of Sethra
      July 9, 2011 at 11:48 am —

      “The fact that women in Western culture can cry about – and be showered with undue attention for – being asked to have coffee with someone (regardless of the implications) shows just how privileged and out of touch with the rest of the world we are.”

      The fact that Western culture can cry about – and be showered with undue attention for – insisting someon has a right to proposition anyone, anywhere, and at any time (regardless of the implications) shows just how privileged and out of touch with the rest of the world we are.

      Sex is fun. Many of us enjoy it. This has nothing to do with sex itself, and everything to do with showing respect to the person with whom you’d like to have sex.

      • Profile photo of Sethra
        July 9, 2011 at 11:50 am —

        Bloody typos. That should read:

        “The fact that men in Western culture can cry about – and be showered with undue attention for – insisting we have a right to proposition anyone, anywhere, and at any time (regardless of the implications) shows just how privileged and out of touch with the rest of the world we are.”

    • Profile photo of phyraxus
      July 9, 2011 at 12:33 pm —

      Woah, thems fightin’ words, meagan.

      You might need to backtrack and change your mind before they start yelling at for being a gender traitor and having your vagina ID card revoked.

    • Profile photo of rachele
      July 11, 2011 at 9:01 am —

      A LOT of women have been victims of sexual harassment, assault and rape by men. Acknowledging and dealing with risks is not the same as having a victim mentality. It’s called being sensible. And it’s emphatically not the same as thinking that every man who walks past you in the evening wants to attack you.

      If you’ve so far escaped any such nastiness, I’m delighted for you. Try not to do what I did and be so naively trusting that you end up getting raped. Believe me – and the many, many women who have shared their experiences of harassment and assault – the risk is there.

      Also, while sexual assault of men is real and should not in any way be downplayed, I’d be astonished if the number was anything like as high as that for assaults on women. I suspect that the number of men sexually assaulted by women is lower still.

      • Profile photo of meagan
        July 13, 2011 at 12:29 pm —

        Actually, I’ve been sexually assaulted twice and fought my way out of a rape.

        That doesn’t mean I’m going to wear a badge of victimhood and be wary of all men for the rest of my life.

  93. Profile photo of chriswillett
    July 9, 2011 at 4:53 pm —

    Why I stand with Dr. Richard Dawkins:

    The skeptic community is embroiled in an acrimonious debate concerning whether “Elevator Guy” was obtuse and harmless or sexist and harassing in his overture to Ms. Watson in an elevator in Dublin. When I arrived to this debate, quite late, “Elevator Guy” had been repeatedly insulted and his motives thoroughly debated (in commentary long on assumptions and emotional intensity and short on facts). Some “feminists” derided his actions as sexist and emphasized the potential for sexual assault, citing statistics and research on rape. Others, siding with Dr. Dawkins, argued that this perspective constitutes “hysteria” (admittedly a sexist term) and serves not to elevate women, but to demean men by presupposing that they are all potential rapists. Some “feminists” shot back by accusing their opponents of ignorance on issues of sexism and male privilege.

    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.

    First, I disagree with the notion that this event was unquestionably an act of sexism:

    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. (Undoubtedly, Christian doctrine played a large part in promoting this view.) 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.

    Second, and much more importantly, I believe that Dr. Dawkins has been unfairly pilloried:

    Dr. Dawkins entered the debate shortly after it began, sarcastically comparing the incident to the appalling oppression of women in fundamentalist Islamic societies. I believe he intended to express that the incident hardly merits the attention it has received. After his comment was widely panned, Dr. Dawkins clarified his position, requested additional information, and acknowledged that he could be mistaken. Whatever your opinion of his tone, a close reading of his three comments does not reveal him to be the domineering misogynist he has been made out to be.

    But I am no longer chiefly concerned with my ability to convince others of my perspective on whether or not the elevator proposition was sexist. A much more pressing matter is the extreme, divisive reactions that Ms. Watson and some of her supporters have recently posted on Skepchick. In “The Privilege Delusion,” Ms. Watson refers derisively to Dr. Dawkins as a “stinking rich” “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.

    We can do better than this. The first responsibility of any skeptic is to be skeptical of his own perspective. That ability, along with a healthy dose of modesty and humility, has been abandoned in recent days. It is long past time to let this issue go.

    • Profile photo of Sethra
      July 9, 2011 at 11:49 pm —

      “We can do better than this. The first responsibility of any skeptic is to be skeptical of his own perspective.”

      My perspective is that more than half of the men I’ve met in my life have not respected my right to say “no” to unwanted sexual attention…and they’ve done so in varying forms, including rape threats, stalkers, and incredibly petty forms of harassment. I won’t speak to more than that at this time.

      I’ve had enough.

      A lot of other women have spoken up and said the same thing. There have been some excellent points made along the way, but you know what else we’ve seen? We’ve seen my results as described above exposed to the world as male temper tantrums over being asked to not proposition women 24/7.

      In fact, if I’m following the series of events correctly, those temper tantrums are what started this flame war — the male response to Rebecca’s rather mild post was vicious and unwarranted, and after people spoke up in her defense, RD chimed in.

      The fact that an overwhelming number of women agree with Rebecca provides support for her statement that the behavior was creepy. Many men recognized this as well, either agreeing with or still managing to argue with RW. In the face of evidence demonstrating that a majority of women do not appreciate being approached by random strangers at 4 am in elevators, especially after clearly saying they dislike being objectified…guys, don’t do that. The only reason I can see anyone objecting to this rather logical premise is that they don’t think women have a right to reject male attention.

      Too bad.

      The male response has also pretty clearly demonstrated that a number of skeptic males see women as useful only for sex, and it would be great to know who they are so we can avoid them IRL…although I’m pretty sure they must give themselves away as berks right quick.

      In either case, I’m happy to avoid them all by not attending atheist events. Walking down the street naked would apparently gain me less unwanted attention.

  94. Profile photo of Handbasketexpress
    July 9, 2011 at 7:50 pm —

    Really? Dawkins has been abused in this? Really? There is anyone out there that believes coffee was what was proposed? REALLY? Men think women have to be ready to experience sexual come on’s, no matter how ham handed, skeevy or potentially dangerous at all times and never complain about it and never be afraid that those come on’s could become rape, even though they frequently do become rape or the woman is a sexist? Really? This is the official response of a skeptical community when women ask not to be hit on at 4am in hotel elevators? People are threatening Rebecca now. They are demonizing her and making horrifying statements about feminists. Really? Then this is not a movement for me. Forget that my grandmother is seeking an energy healer for her chronic illness. Forget that my local schools are full of creationists. I will never take my daughters or myself to an event where we are expected to deal with this sexist bullshit. If we want that, I’ll start going back to church.

    • Profile photo of punchdrunk
      July 9, 2011 at 8:18 pm —

      It’s worse than that. They’re saying “Our movement doesn’t have more women because women are pussies who need to grow some skin when they’re treated this way.”
      They either don’t want women at their events, don’t care if there are women there, or they just hate the idea of acting like adults instead of hormonal teenagers.

      • Profile photo of
        July 9, 2011 at 10:02 pm —

        Oh come on, get real, Punchdrunk. Yes, a small, vociferous, and loud selection of angry posters and some “movement” movers and shakers are saying some things along that line — and the “other” side is equally guilty of irrational raging posts.

        But your grand blanket generalisation is a perfect example of the kind of black and white, myopic, simplistic, and profoundly shortsighted and unrealistic thinking and posting from both sides of the ugly fence that has driven this whole issue into the stratosphere of insane.

        There have been many posters here and on other blogs who have posted rational, thoughtful, intelligent, and well stated arguments expressing some of the nuance required to really make sense of this issue; nuance which is sadly missing from a lot of the comments, including many of those from Watson, Myers, and a handful of other “limelighted” people who really should know better than to help fan the flames of confusion and willful obfuscation with such inflammatory vigour.

        • Profile photo of punchdrunk
          July 9, 2011 at 10:33 pm —

          I’m not speaking about the thoughtful, intelligent, and nuanced discourse. That’s not the problem. You’re absolutely right, the problem is the way this whole thing blew up. I’m really not picking a side, I’m just seeing that particular attitude from a few commenters.
          I apologize for being over-broad.

          • Profile photo of
            July 9, 2011 at 10:51 pm

            Understood (now). Thanks for the reply.

        • Profile photo of Sethra
          July 9, 2011 at 11:23 pm —

          That’s interesting. I thought PZ Myers had the best and most rational summary of all:

          “For those of you who are outraged at that, I ask: which part of her response fills you with fury? That a woman said no, or that a woman has asked men to be more sensitive?”

          • Profile photo of
            July 10, 2011 at 12:27 am

            Sethra, it seems rational on the surface, but the problem with it is that neither one of those “responses” were what most people were getting worked up over. So, intentionally or not, Myers pulled a fast one, stirred up the waters, and obfuscated the issue, thereby helping to cause the ensuing mess. Myers is an expert at misrepresentation, and he clearly gets a great deal of juvenile fun out of stirring shit up and getting people chewing at each others throats.
            .
            With some not very important exceptions, most of the commentors agreed that Watson is/was fully within her rights to feel whatever she felt in respone to EG’s proposition — I don’t think any of the more rational posters/commentors felt that they actually had the right to tell Watson how to feel, and those less rational posters can be overlooked. Maybe.
            .
            But a lot of folks are getting confused between her right to feel whatever it was she felt and whether or not those feelings were warranted — please note, I said warranted, not justified; those are two different issues. And that discussion got thrown out with the dishwater almost immediately because of bad diction, poor reading comprehension, misquotes, and general confusion, anger, and growling High Dudgeon.
            .
            Also, I think most “sane” commentors had no issue with Watson saying No — that’s 100% her choice and decision, and entirely her right to do so. Hell, as far as we know even EG was perfectly fine with her saying No, and off he went on his merry way.
            .
            And to a slightly lesser degree, perhaps, all of that holds true with the issue regarding Watson asking men to be more sensitive, or aware.
            .
            The kerfuffles really were around several other related but tangential issues, all of which got overlooked, sidetracked, sabotaged, and so on with the growing fury.
            .
            And along with that, as the whole thing fell apart, everyone began talking … screaming at cross-purposes until the original issues were so tangled up that I don’t think anyone really had a handle anymore on who said what, where, when, and why — the number of inaccurate “quotes” posted by commentors is staggering.

          • Profile photo of Sethra
            July 11, 2011 at 11:37 am

            “Myers is an expert at misrepresentation, and he clearly gets a great deal of juvenile fun out of stirring shit up and getting people chewing at each others throats.”

            You mean like Dawkins did with his “Dear Muslima” letter?

  95. Profile photo of Jack99
    July 9, 2011 at 10:14 pm —

    @Phryaxus had a good point about context back there:

    “RD’s response wasn’t even directed at RW, but all the raving loonies at PZ’s blog.”

    A good outcome might then be if RW and RD were to issue a joint statement condemning sexual harassment at conferences and addressing the (perfectly legitimate) concerns of women here.

  96. Profile photo of phyraxus
    July 10, 2011 at 3:37 am —

    Yeah, I actually meant to put it out as a new thread. (I don’t like this comment system. I’d prefer chronological order.) So, I’ll post it again.

    “RD’s response wasn’t even directed at RW, but all the raving loonies at PZ’s blog. Reading his statement out of context does him no justice. His second response clarified his point, but at that point, everyone only sees the word “gum.” He was trying to provide perspective to the pharynguloids, not “worse stuff elsewhere, so stop complaining” logical fallacy, because they were making mountains out of molehills.

    The listening to the current The skeptic podcast, and RW is pretending that RD’s response is only to her and not in PZ’s forum. You respond to a forum, because you are responding to the people in it. If he were writing his response ONLY to RW, he would have posted it on her site. RW is being extremely intellectually dishonest.”

  97. Profile photo of agrowombat
    July 10, 2011 at 5:51 am —

    Nice work Rebecca,

    “Skepchick” now has more people reading it and over 1,000 comments in one thread.
    Is this the highlight of her career ?
    Now the god squad can proclaim atheists are rapists.

    Sure, RD is a dirty old man but he’s a 70 year old harmless dirty man.
    Implying that RW felt “threatened” is either an insult or she’s just a prime drama queen looking for publicity.

    But in respect to RD,
    He’s received a hell of lot more death threats and hate mail than RW could even imagine.

    • Profile photo of mimeparadox
      July 10, 2011 at 10:50 am —

      Harmless? From where I stand, he’s done plenty of harm. He’s harmed his career, by making it clear that he is willing to abandon skepticism and rationality when it comes to his biases. He’s harmed the skeptic movement, by highlighting how the sexism and misogyny that many women had encountered within extends to some of the movement’s guiding lights and most visible figures. He’s harmed women by claiming that their experiences don’t matter, and that receiving creepy, unwanted, and threatening advances from people they don’t know and who happily ignore her explicit boundaries does “zero harm”–someone might believe him. If good comes from this, is in that it allows feminists of all genders to realize the scope of the sexism/misogyny problem within the skeptic movement, in a manner that hopefully will allow them to improve it and change it into something that is inclusive and non-threathening to all.

      On another topic, I don’t see what sexy calendars have to do with anything. Women have every right to consider themselves sexy, and, if they so desire, flaunt that sexuality. This does not eliminate their right to refuse consent, nor does it mean that people can assume that their consent is a given until revoked. It most certainly doesn’t give men the right to dismiss women’s boundaries or act as if their desire for sex supersedes women’s right to feel safe.

  98. Profile photo of fedup
    July 10, 2011 at 7:49 am —

    Men claim feminism makes women hate them and label them as rapists. Really?

    The majority of men responding to this drama leave comments basically telling women that we’re wrong for fearing rape*, that their feelings are more important than our safety, and that they’ll do whatever they want to do to us. But of course, they’re “not rapists”
    even with this entitled mindset.

    (*These same men would also tell us we were sluts who asked for it if we did get raped and that, besides, we’re probably lying anyway.)

    Then I go to the actual video and see “men” (some even in their 40s) leaving comments about how ugly she is, describing in what varied and graphic ways they’d like to rape her, etc.

    Wow. The internet is very educational, in that we women can see men’s real feelings when they’re hiding behind an anonymous screen name.

    Well, that does it for me. Forget about feminism. Combined with this, and several real life experiences I’ve had with men who think they’re entitled to my body, I can say feminism doesn’t make me hate men. MEN make me hate men. The vast majority are scum, and their actions speak louder than their cries of “I’m a ‘nice’ guy” and “I’m not a rapist.”

    I don’t care if this makes me a misandrist. Since men have proudly been misogynists for thousands of years, maybe women should proudly be misandrists. Men don’t think there’s anything wrong with the way they behave.

    Now watch the same men who boast “we’ll do whatever we want to you” and make anonymous rape threats bawl “OMG, don’t be hateful (like we are). We should all get along and hold hands.” HAHAHA. That’s rich.

    Atheist men are just as ignorant and immoral as Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and other men. A world without religion would be the same as it is now, because the vast majority of men think they can do whatever they want to women.

    Keep your sociopathic behavior up, boys. Tell us you’ll treat women however you want. Make more rape threats. I hope more women see you for what you really are.

  99. Profile photo of cyoz
    July 10, 2011 at 2:05 pm —

    I find it amazing but more sad that this discussion is happening in the skeptic community that I came to know through people like Steven Novella.

    Most arguments here are nothing more than propaganda, name-calling and emotional appeals. You’re either pro-Rebecca and pro-Dawkins, rape-apologist or the last voice of reason against feminist craziness.

    Putting pressure on Dawkins by spamming him with letters that will be obviously pro-Rebecca is just another sad episode of this drama.

    Now where do I start to untangle this all?

    1. Rebecca gets propositioned by the man in the elevator. She expresses her discomfort.

    Are her feelings valid?

    Of course they are and since things like discomfort / “creepiness” / offensiveness are mostly tied to emotion and not metaphysical properties that is all it takes to make something offensive, creepy etc.
    This *does* mean that the advance was creepy but this does also mean that this advance would not be creepy if there was a different woman in the elevator than Rebecca who didn’t find it creepy.

    2. Rebecca says “guys don’t do this”.

    I think it is safe to say that she didn’t expect this whole thing to blow up like that so it’s likely that she didn’t choose her words as one would choose them in a philosophical exchange so she could mean: “Guys, never ever approach a woman in circumstances as above, period.” or “Guys, please consider that women might feel uncomfortable in such situations, so use that in your judgment of when to approach a woman”.

    This might sound nearly identical but it isn’t. The first would come from a stance where offensiveness of something is enough to infer moral judgment, which was the core argument of Dawkins second comment: “I don’t like being advanced in elevators at 4pm, therefore it’s bad when people do that.”; “I don’t like when people chew gum near me, therefore it’s bad when people do that.”
    Many people used an analogy with racism (“I’m afraid of black people”) but I’m glad Dawkins didn’t. It’s just bringing in a taboo and an emotional appeal into it where it isn’t needed.

    This question is not easy to be answered and if you claim it is, you probably didn’t understand the implications and I do accuse both Watson and Dawkins and most of the commentators in the discussion of that.

    Bringing in rape and strength difference is just as complicated.
    Would it be o.k. for a weaker man to make an approach in an elevator? If innocent men should change their actions because of criminal men, should blacks do the same because of gang-members that happen to be black?

    If not, should I be able to ask you for some change with a knife in my hand?

    3. Men need to understand the female perspective on this issues.

    While I do agree with that, I feel that many commentators who speak in Rebeccas favor disregard the male perspective here. Some women will be offended of being asked for a coffee in an elevator like that, some won’t. Some women will be offended of being asked out in a coffe shop or in a library, some wont. Some women don’t want to be asked out at all, some do. Men can’t tell, they are not mind-readers but they are pushed and expected by both men and women to make approaches. It’s not that sharing how you feel is bad, but that keeping in mind that men don’t know how you feel beforehand before calling him a predator, creep or potentioal rapist isn’t bad either.

    • Profile photo of Sethra
      July 11, 2011 at 11:19 am —

      “3. Men need to understand the female perspective on this issues.

      While I do agree with that, I feel that many commentators who speak in Rebeccas favor disregard the male perspective here. Some women will be offended of being asked for a coffee in an elevator like that, some won’t. Some women will be offended of being asked out in a coffe shop or in a library, some wont. Some women don’t want to be asked out at all, some do. Men can’t tell, they are not mind-readers but they are pushed and expected by both men and women to make approaches. It’s not that sharing how you feel is bad, but that keeping in mind that men don’t know how you feel beforehand before calling him a predator, creep or potentioal rapist isn’t bad either.”

      Um…so basically, you want all women to be mindful to not hurt men’s feelings every minute of the day?

      You want to make this example of hitting on someone as something that only randomly happens. It’s not. It’s a constant behavioral pattern between men and women, and men need to start taking ownership of their actions.

      Example:

      Part one: You see a man you don’t know sitting at a table at the local library. He’s obviously concentrating intently (brow furrowed and all that), and he’s typing. Do you walk over and randomly start a conversation with him, interrupting his work?

      If not, good for you. You have manners!

      Part two: You see a woman you don’t know sitting at a table at the library. She’s obviously concentrating intently (brow furrowed and all that), and she’s typing. Do you walk over and randomly start a conversation with her, interrupting her work?

      If you do, you do not have manners. Oops.

      Yes, this is a recent event for me. The guy wandered over and said, “Hey, I used to have a [brand name] laptop. The hard drive died on me and I had to replace it.” I muttered something in commiseration and continued working, and he dawdled nearby for nearly ten minutes, staring at me every so often, clearly convinced that I was supposed to continue this conversation, and looking visibly annoyed when I didn’t. At least he finally wandered off and let me work in peace.

      This isn’t rape; this isn’t a crime. What this is is a sense of entitlement where men seem to think they have the right to interrupt whatever a woman is doing and demand her attention. This happens to me on a regular basis, and if I stopped and treated each incident separately and interacted socially with every guy who interrupted me, I’D NEVER GET ANYTHING DONE. Even having to stop what I’m doing for long enough to say, “I’m busy and can’t talk to you right now” or to say “Excuse me, I’m late” doesn’t get me out of the situation, because men then ask what I’m doing or where I’m going…and I get delayed even further after stating my clear need to be on my way. Why should I take pity on people who clearly do not listen to me or treat me as an equal?

      This is part of the mindset we’re trying to discuss — the idea that a woman is always obligated to listen to a man, no matter what.

      We’re not. We have lives of our own — we have our own wants and needs, and we have stuff we need to do. Like work. Like study. Like [insert whatever activity here]. You may be catching us on our way to the bank and we’re rushing because we’re worried about not getting there before it closes. You may be catching us in situations where we’re worrying about something and your interruption is highly unwelcome. It’s not our task to wear signs indicating this – it’s your task to read the visual cues and interpret whether a person would appreciate being interrupted. You need to take responsibility for your own behavior and social interactions. Period.

      If even that fails to sink in, think of it this way: if you see a woman who’s doing something like reading but you want to talk to her anyway, ask yourself if you’d interrupt a guy who was performing the same activity. If you wouldn’t interrupt a guy based on the fact that it would be rude, then you’re not treating the woman as an equal. You’re treating her as a potential sex object whose activities and needs rate lower than your own desires.

      That is the point.

      There are times and places where it’s great to hit on women, and there are times and places where it’s not a good idea to hit on women. If you have trouble figuring them out on your own, ask the women in your lives how often they get interrupted when they’re doing something, and ask them to explain to you how to tell when a woman generally wishes to be left alone.

      Major bonus irony points if you interrupt them in order to ask about how often they get interrupted.

      • Profile photo of Sethra
        July 11, 2011 at 11:23 am —

        Curses. This paragraph should read:

        “If even that fails to sink in, think of it this way: if you see a woman who’s doing something like reading but you want to talk to her anyway, ask yourself if you’d interrupt a guy who was performing the same activity. If you wouldn’t interrupt a guy based on the fact that it would be rude ***but you WOULD interrupt the woman***, then you’re not treating the woman as an equal. You’re treating her as a potential sex object whose activities and needs rate lower than your own desires.”

  100. Profile photo of rachele
    July 11, 2011 at 8:37 am —

    Re: giving men the benefit of the doubt.

    I used to do that all the time.

    I was lost in a small town in Italy in my early 20s. I asked a guy where the coach station was. He told me and we chatted for about 20 minutes. It turned out the coach wasn’t leaving for about 4 minutes so he asked if I wanted to go to his place for a coffee. I agreed.

    Within 5 minutes, he had shoved me up against the kitchen counter and was telling me how beautiful my lips are.

    Got talking to a guy at my gym in my late 20s. We saw each other a lot and spoke most times we met. He seemed nice and friendly. He invited me to go round to his. Within 10 minutes, he had put on a porn video, got his dick out and started wanking.

    Also in my late 20s, I got chatting to a man at the bar after our office Christmas party. Seemed nice. We spoke for about an hour and then he asked if I’d like him to talk me to the Tube station. I accepted. He threw me in some bushes and raped me.

    Christ knows where I’d have ended up if I’d continued to be so unthinkingly trusting.

    This isn’t about having a victim mentality: it’s about risk management. Do the risk management thing well and you’re less likely to end up actually being a victim.

  101. Profile photo of rachele
    July 11, 2011 at 8:38 am —

    Sorry – the coach wasn’t leaving for 45 minutes…

  102. Profile photo of savi
    July 11, 2011 at 12:14 pm —

    Here’s a summary of this whole ordeal and the conclusions we can reach from it:

    As Dawkins said, technically the elevator guy didn’t do anything “wrong”, since he respectfully approached her and invited her to his room. When rejected, he left it at that and the two went on with their lives. On paper, the guy wasn’t being rude or inappropriate.

    But the counter-argument here is that the elevator guy should have been more perceptive of Rebecca’s fears. He should have realized that she didn’t know whether he was a normal guy or a rapist, and should have only approached her in a setting where she would feel more comfortable. So basically, even though he was behaving in a respectful and appropriate manner, it was just bad timing; the circumstances weren’t right.

    Stating that you want to see Dawkins’ legacy “crash and burn” is a little overboard though, don’t you think?

    • Profile photo of Sethra
      July 11, 2011 at 12:30 pm —

      Um…no. You left out the part where he was within earshot and heard her declining to spend more time talking to people and expressing a desire to go to her room and get some sleep…not to mention the part where she spent pretty much the entire day expressing the concept that she dislikes being hit on.

      EG ignored her stated wishes and intentions in favor of his own desire to corner her privately.

      Additionally, for whatever reason, many men seem to think they have a right to impose themselves on women regardless of the situation or what the women want.

      That is the issue being addressed here.

      • Profile photo of weatherwax
        July 12, 2011 at 2:43 am —

        Also, he didn’t attempt to speak to her as she was leaving. He deliberatly followed her to the elevator, and propositioned her only after the doors closed and she was trapped.

  103. Profile photo of rriverstone
    July 11, 2011 at 1:25 pm —

    omments were posted by someone calling himself “Richard Dawkins.” Of course, I have no idea whether or not it is he. To make a comment like this in his name is crude and disrespectful, not simply to Ms. Watson, but to the “Muslima” woman described.

    I HAVE mutilated genitals. For you to exploit the suffering of millions of women, all over the globe, for the gratuitous purpose of ridiculing Ms. Watson ridicules ALL women, especially the “Muslimas” you’ve described!

    That’s not humor; that’s sadism. And, because it’s sadism against women, it’s misogyny. Period.

    http://viridianariverstone.blogspot.com/2011/07/rebecca-and-elevator.html

  104. Profile photo of qwertyuiop
    July 11, 2011 at 6:36 pm —

    Dear Professor Dawkins

    In view of the amount of irrational hatred that seems to have been flying around lately, I would like to take a moment to calm down and try to sympathise with each of the involved parties.

    First off, Ms Watson. I don’t presume to dispute her account of her own feelings of discomfort and, based on the events that took place throughout the evening, I do not think that she was being excessively thin-skinned in having such feelings either. Let’s recap:

    Ms Watson spent some time, both during her speech at the conference proper and in the bar afterwards, talking about how she did not like the way in which certain men (not all; not even most) at atheist conferences treated her in a sexualised manner. I will say at this point that I am a big fan of sex and sexualisation – its demonisation by most religions is one of the key reasons for my opposition to them – but an atheist conference is ultimately a professional, or at least a cognitive environment, and sex should be to all intents and purposes the last thing on the agenda. She then proceeded, at 4.00 am, to announce that she was tired and was going to bed. One man, a stranger, followed her into a lift and propositioned her – politely, yes, but nonetheless explicitly. What else does ‘coffee’ mean in that situation? To deny this is to show the utmost naïveté. It is easy to see how Ms Watson could have found this situation discomfiting, even scary. This took place, to restate, at 4.00 am when, even in a city hotel, the vast majority of residents and staff are asleep. Imagine you were in Ms Watson’s shoes, Professor Dawkins. I would imagine that you too would not feel especially comfortable.

    Now let’s look at it from Lift Guy’s perspective. I strongly suspect he didn’t think he was doing anything wrong – he might even have thought he was being romantic, because he’s a bit of klutz around women (equally, he might just have been desperately trying anything, because he’s a bit of a klutz around women). He simply didn’t have sufficient empathic capabilities to put himself in Ms Watson’s shoes (as I have asked you to do) and concluded, like you, that so long as he stuck to words, she had nothing to complain about. He failed to consider the fact that, unlike him, Ms Watson did not know she was safe in his company. Nonetheless, his crime was almost certainly one of foolishness rather than malice.

    What was needed, then, was not a stern telling off but some gentle, polite advice. Something along the lines of ‘guys, don’t do that’. Obviously some people (men and women, but mostly men) thought Ms Watson’s response was over the top, which is a fair opinion. Personally I think she has acted fairly and correctly throughout, but it’s undoubtedly a delicate issue and I can’t deny the potential legitimacy of the belief that she over-reacted. This is an issue, then, that is ripe for reasoned debate of the sort you yourself claim to champion. Unfortunately, however, some of those who disagreed with Ms Watson, including a fairly well known evolutionary biologist, chose not to articulate this opinion in a reasonable, logical manner. Some reacted with open misogyny; you reacted, barely less subtly and barely less abhorrently, with a rhetorical dismissal, not just of Ms Watson’s complaint, but of the complaints of all Western women.

    The rhetorical device you used is one I’ve found thrown into arguments time and again to damage the legitimacy of opposition speakers in order to avoid having to take on their arguments directly – ‘stop complaining, others have it worse than you’ says precisely nothing about the complaint itself. The pit of hell is bottomless and dismissing the complaints of those who, in your estimation, have not fallen far enough down it to have ‘real problems’ is not only arbitrary, it also demonstrates a shocking lack of empathy and compassion.

    I do not dismiss or diminish the sufferings of the unfortunate ‘Muslima’, who along with her mutilated genitals finds herself the unwitting star of a cheap, poorly written piece of what I can only presume is intended to be satire, though beyond form it shares little in common with that genre. Undoubtedly female genital mutilation is a cruel and horrifying practice, and it is one which has been (though this is beside the point) explicitly condemned by Ms Watson. (I should also venture to point out, just for the record, that FGM is an East African cultural phenomenon rather than a Muslim one. This is not to excuse Islam from its disgusting crimes against womankind but, as you are well aware, it is good to be empirically accurate).

    The trouble is, Professor Dawkins, that this outburst of irrational rhetoric is not the first time you have strayed from the path of reason. As an admirer of your achievements in the field of evolutionary biology, as well as in raising awareness for atheism, I am saddened to say that I was not shocked when this story broke. As a person of (I would like to think) above average rationality myself, I, like you, am annoyed sometimes by people being unreasonable. However, I always take a minute to calm down and try to sympathise with all the parties involved, and when I do respond, I try to ensure I do so in a reasonable manner and address directly the issue at stake. In a situation like this, when Ms Watson was not even being unreasonable (regardless of whether she’s in the right or not, her request for guys to ‘[not] do that’ is perfectly polite and moderate), it would fit you well to do the same. Your tenacity is a great asset to the anti-religious movement but your anger is equally a liability. When you get into an argument, even with a theist (in fact, especially with a theist), put away your anger and your outrage and have sufficient trust in your convictions to rely on reason and compassion alone. The movement you are an important part of, not to mention you yourself, will gain for it.

    Regards,

    Phil Howe, Cambridge

  105. Profile photo of Sethra
    July 13, 2011 at 3:50 pm —

    I expect nothing from Dawkins. I popped by his site out of curiosity. At the bottom, there’s a box showing pics with the captions “The Good” (men), “The Bad” (man), “The Ugly” (woman).

    Way to go, Dickie.

  106. Profile photo of chriswillett
    July 14, 2011 at 6:09 pm —

    What’s been forgotten throughout the angry discussion of this issue is that Dr. Dawkins was probably responding not to Ms. Watson’s video, but to PZ Myers’ blog post and the arguments raging in the comments. Further, unlike many of his opponents, Dr. Dawkins – after his first comment was widely panned – clarified his position, requested additional information, and acknowledged that he could be mistaken. I think he deserves the benefit of the doubt, not backstabbing decrees such as Mindy’s “I look forward to watching your legacy crash and burn.”

    • Profile photo of Sethra
      July 14, 2011 at 6:10 pm —

      Read his comments. He specifically mentioned Rebecca.

  107. Profile photo of pzmyers
    July 25, 2011 at 8:56 pm —

    Just in case anyone is interested, I have banned the odious DavidByron from Pharyngula for making a whole series of stark raving mad comments under a different pseudonym — here, for instance. If you thought he was nuts here, you should see what he does when he imagines he has anonymity.

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