The Privilege Delusion

Well, PZ Myers, Jen McCreight, Phil Plait, Amanda Marcotte, Greg Laden, Melissa McEwan and others have all already said it, but I figured I should post this for the record: yes, Richard Dawkins believes I should be a good girl and just shut up about being sexually objectified because it doesn’t bother him. Thanks, wealthy old heterosexual white man! 

When I started this site, I didn’t call myself a feminist. I had a hazy idea that feminism was a good thing, but it was something that other people worried about, not me. I was living in a time and culture that had transcended the need for feminism, because in my world we were all rational atheists who had thrown off our religious indoctrination so that I could freely make rape jokes without fear of hurting someone who had been raped.

And then I would make a comment about how there could really be more women in the community, and the responses from my fellow skeptics and atheists ranged from “No, they’re not logical like us,” to “Yes, so we can fuck them!” That seemed weird.

So I started speaking more about women. About how they’re not idiots. About how they can think logically but maybe there are other social pressures keeping them away from our message, like how we tell women they should be quiet and polite and not question what is told to them. I spoke about how people need role models, and there were so few women on stage at these events.

And I got messages from women who told me about how they had trouble attending pub gatherings and other events because they felt uncomfortable in a room full of men. They told me about how they were hit on constantly and it drove them away. I didn’t fully get it at the time, because I didn’t mind getting hit on. But I acknowledged their right to feel that way and I started suggesting to the men that maybe they relax a little and not try to get in the pants of every woman who walks through the door. Maybe they could wait for her to make the first move, just in case.

And then, for the past few years as the audience for Skepchick and SGU grew, I’ve had more and more messages from men who tell me what they’d like to do to me, sexually. More and more men touching me without permission at conferences. More and more threats of rape from those who don’t agree with me, even from those who consider themselves skeptics and atheists. More and more people telling me to shut up and go back to talking about Bigfoot and other topics that really matter.

And I said no. I learned more about modern feminism and about how their goals so clearly overlapped those of the humanists and skeptics and secularists, and I wrote and spoke more about the issues within that overlap because so few other skeptics were doing it.

So here we are today. I am a feminist, because skeptics and atheists made me one. Every time I mention, however delicately, a possible issue of misogyny or objectification in our community, the response I get shows me that the problem is much worse than I thought, and so I grow angrier. I knew that eventually I would reach a sort of feminist singularity where I would explode and in my place would rise some kind of Captain Planet-type superhero but for feminists. I believe that day has nearly arrived.

You may recall that I related an incident in which I was propositioned, and I said, “Guys, don’t do that.” Really, that’s what I said. I didn’t call for an end to sex. I didn’t accuse the man in my story of rape. I didn’t say all men are monsters. I said, “Guys, don’t do that.” Cue Richard Dawkins‘ response:

Dear Muslima

Stop whining, will you. Yes, yes, I know you had your genitals mutilated with a razor blade, and . . . yawn . . . don’t tell me yet again, I know you aren’t allowed to drive a car, and you can’t leave the house without a male relative, and your husband is allowed to beat you, and you’ll be stoned to death if you commit adultery. But stop whining, will you. Think of the suffering your poor American sisters have to put up with.

Only this week I heard of one, she calls herself Skep”chick”, and do you know what happened to her? A man in a hotel elevator invited her back to his room for coffee. I am not exaggerating. He really did. He invited her back to his room for coffee. Of course she said no, and of course he didn’t lay a finger on her, but even so . . .

And you, Muslima, think you have misogyny to complain about! For goodness sake grow up, or at least grow a thicker skin.


This is especially interesting since Richard Dawkins sat next to me in Dublin and heard me talk about the threats of rape I get. This is one I keep as a screenshot to use an example for people who don’t understand:

That comment and many like it were sent to me in response to a video I did about the horrors of female genital mutilation, which, by the way, is a cultural practice and not relegated to Muslim women. I’ve spoken about the topic a lot, and the worst of my hate mail from atheists is about that.

So to have my concerns – and more so the concerns of other women who have survived rape and sexual assault – dismissed thanks to a rich white man comparing them to the plight of women who are mutilated, is insulting to all of us. Feminists in the west have been staunch allies of the women being brutalized elsewhere, and they’ve done a hell of a lot more than Richard Dawkins when it comes to making a difference in their lives.

That wasn’t the end, of course. Dawkins went on to compare my experience with his frustration at riding in an elevator with a person chewing gum (presumably he was once accosted by such a person who rubbed Bubble Yum into his silky white hair). You can read all his comments to date at Shakesville or one of the other sites linked above.

This weekend when I read Dawkins’ comments, I was, briefly, without hope. I had already seen the future of this movement dismissing these concerns, and now I was seeing the present do the same.

What is the point in continuing?

That’s where you come in. You, dear reader, have been incredible. You posted in response to Dawkins on the Pharyngula thread, bravely battling both him and the hoards of clueless privileged people who didn’t get it. You emailed me to tell me to keep talking. You introduced yourself at SkepchickCon and told me how much you loved Skepchick and SGU. You wrote blog posts and made videos and were kick ass, and you made me realize that Dawkins is not the present. He is the past.

So many of you voiced what I had already been thinking: that this person who I always admired for his intelligence and compassion does not care about my experiences as an atheist woman and therefore will no longer be rewarded with my money, my praise, or my attention. I will no longer recommend his books to others, buy them as presents, or buy them for my own library. I will not attend his lectures or recommend that others do the same. There are so many great scientists and thinkers out there that I don’t think my reading list will suffer.

Despite the fact that I’ve seen hundreds of comments from those of you who plan to do the same, I’m sure Dawkins will continue to be stinking rich until the end of his days. But those of us who are humanists and feminists will find new, better voices to promote and inspire, and Dawkins will be left alone to fight the terrible injustice of standing in elevators with gum-chewers.

PS: A few Skepchicks have written letters to Dawkins and were thinking of posting them here as well as sending them to him. If you’d like your letter included in our post, please send it to skepchick at skepchick.org.

PPS: Some are wondering if it was really Dawkins, and yes, that was definitely confirmed by PZ Myers. Also, some of you are wondering if I’m criticizing all rich, white, old, etc men when I call out those attributes. No! I am merely illustrating the unbelievable height of Dawkins’ privilege.

PPPS: Nope, I didn’t call for a boycott. I’m relaying the fact that I have no interest in giving this person any more of my money or attention. Other people have independently told me they’re doing the same. This is not an organized campaign, and no one is going to be vilified for continuing to give their own time and attention to Dawkins.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon mstdn.social/@rebeccawatson Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky @rebeccawatson.bsky.social

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  1. I am loving that feminism is getting such a big spotlight in the skeptic community. It’s really showing people’s true colors and providing an opportunity for those who aren’t familiar with what feminism really is to become better acquainted with it.

    I really thought Richard Dawkins was better than this. I’m bummed that he is like this, but glad that we found this out. Again… thank you, Rebecca, for being so passionate about this.

    1. Thank you so much for taking the time and energy to talk about this – first in your video, then more here and elsewhere. I came to feminism much the same way, although it was as part of the LGBT community that I got pissed off.

    2. I’m behind you guys all the way, and I just lost all respect I once had for Dawkins. This just keeps getting worse.

    3. If anything this illustrates female privilege.

      A guy cannot go in an elevator with a woman and/or proposition a woman to have coffee without being labeled a creep or feared to be a rapist. Women have the privilege to reserve the right to have an elevator by themselves, and if not isolated, they have the right to a silent elevator.

      How can that be male privilege when it’s men being perceived as being a threat because women, in general, feet uncomfortable? Where is the benefit for men in this exchange? On the other hand, there is a clear benefit for women when they are trying to set guidelines for men to go by so that women don’t view them as creepy or a threat to their safety.

      There is male privilege to be seen here is if you think the ability to rape women is a privilege. The alternative is that men don’t have to fear rape when they are found in Rebecca’s situation. Well, the counter to that would be men fearing false rape accusations since they are alone with a women and there is evidence they entered the elevator together. So, let’s say that people are actually suggesting that the ability to rape women is a privilege. If it were, why do so few take advantage of that? It’s like saying black men have privilege in that they can rob places easier than other groups because they can run faster.

      Food for thought: If a woman asked a man to have some coffee with her, it wouldn’t be creepy and it would be a non-story, unless the man feared he was being set up for a false rape accusation.

      Regardless, Rebecca only said it was creepy… Dawkins points out how much worse Muslim women have it, noticeably off-topic… then the drama unfolded that had EG being seen as a potential rapist… then people tied the rapist angle with what Dawkins said and it then seemed like an inappropriate comment. That’s the problem with the internet, people enter the discussion with later information and preconceived notions of the discussion being had.

      1. c0mputar:
        “It’s like saying black men have privilege in that they can rob places easier than other groups because they can run faster.”

        Racism and misogyny all in one odious little package.

        You come from a “men’s rights movement” blog, don’t you?

        1. Indeed :P Usually I’m into court related issues. Men get shafted in family, divorce, and, well what am I saying, all types of courts, when compared to woman.

          But this issue was too lively to pass up :)

          1. I thought I detected the stench of the MRM in your posts. Good to know my nose for jerks is still infallible.

        2. Computar’s comment about black men was not racist. Do you even try to understand what people say or do you just listen for key buzz words and then throw labels around?

          “A recent study from Duke University has examined this question and determined that height and proportionality differences alter the center of gravity. They found that those of West African heritage tend to have longer legs than those of European heritage. Accordingly, their torsos tend to be shorter, placing their center of gravity about an inch higher, translating in a 1.5% boost in speed. In sprints (where a fraction of a second can put one sprinter in front of another), this advantage seems to allow sprinters of African origin to have more success. It is worth noting, however, that the same differences give Europeans more of an advantage in swimming.”

          If science has found it to be true that black people run faster, then its a fact and not a racist statement, accept it.

          Also, how is c0mputar guilty of woman hate simply for having an opinion that differs from yours? You really just throw labels willy nilly and don’t even try to address the argument, and that’s really unfortunate because that does not help the cause of women at all.

          1. Yawn. More willful incomprehension from the trolls.

            Wake me when one of you says something that’s worth the trouble of reading.

      2. c0mputar, I registered just to tell you that you are completely selfish, obtuse and narcissistic. You seem to think that all women should be flattered by men trying to have sex with them. That any time or place is acceptable to grace them with your attentions. Here are a few hard-for-you facts: not all women want you. Any time and any place is NOT the right time or place for making advances. How can you NOT understand that?

        I will try to give you the benefit of the doubt that you don’t understand that approaching a woman sexually while you are both trapped in a small enclosed area is Wrong and Very Bad. Its obvious you can’t place yourself in our shoes, so let’s give you a scenario you may be able to understand better.

        You are in jail and you share a very small cell, about the size of a king sized bed, with one man. He thinks you are kinda cute and makes sexual advances. He is also much stronger than you and he has the legal system on his side because no one gives a shit about guys who get raped in prison. How do you feel about his advances now? And yes, get past your homophobia and try to figure it out.

        We women aren’t breathlessly waiting every moment of every day for a man to come along and try out some lame pick-up lines so’s they can have sex with us. When we are out looking for someone to have sex with, or a relationship with, its in the appropriate places. Places where NORMAL people go to meet others. We are most definitely NOT looking to hook up or date some weirdo who comes at us when we can’t get away from them. That includes places like: work, home, parking garages, elevators, shopping malls, gas stations, etc.

        BTW, your hero worship of a man with clay feet approaches the level of the stupidity, gullibility, fanaticism, and willful blindness of any religious person.

        1. Ugh, that is so disingenuous, him thinking the man should be allowed to proposition a woman without fear of being labeled a rapist does not equate to “You seem to think that all women should be flattered by men trying to have sex with them”.

          “You may recall that I related an incident in which I was propositioned, and I said, “Guys, don’t do that.” Really, that’s what I said. I didn’t call for an end to sex. I didn’t accuse the man in my story of rape. I didn’t say all men are monsters. I said, “Guys, don’t do that.”
          RW even says she wasn’t accusing him of rape or trying to rape her, why are you equating him to some kind felon(and possible rapist)? At best he is an awkward guy who should have taken the hint and not bothered her. Not some kind of sexual deviant.

    4. For a long time now I have found the Dawkins method of skepticism to be a bit borderline arrogant, not because I disagree with him, rather because I think he relishes in the fact he can brag to people “I’m a super-smart wannabe-witty English biologist” in that oh-so-snotty Upper Class English Gentry sort of way that makes you want to puke. Christopher Hitchens, as a Marxist, has at least some consciousness of class/gender identity issues. I think that the problem here is that identifying oneself by what you DON’T believe in is particularly un-helpful, atheism can embrace all sorts of identities, including masochist men and arrogant sexists. As such, I feel much more comfortable aligning with the Humanist Manifestos, which do seem to embrace at least SOME standard of baseline behavioral expectations. Happy to see an important issue being raised and that someone has the guts to do it. What a shame that the men get all the limelight (and book deals) when much smarter personalities are to be found in cyber space.

      1. I agree, except for the “a bit borderline” part. After seeing “The Root of All Evil?”, in which he picked easy targets and was then repeatedly outwitted by them, resorting to blustering and name-calling instead of actually meeting any counterarguments, I could no longer associate with the “atheist movement”. In any civil conversation where religious questions come up, I have to apologize for him and distance myself from him. The man is a bully, a boor and, as we’ve now seen, a fool.

    5. Just read about your experiences on salon.com. I’m pushing 50 and KNOW there is an ongoing need for feminism. When I read what someone like Dawkins has the arrogance to say I also know there are dozens of men who feel the same but only express their hostility and arrogance indirectly. Like you, I won’t ever read a word Dawkins has to say nor will I read any of his books. There are too many other people and works worth thinking about.

    6. “If you’re a public figure you speak all the time and statistically you’ll say something dumb now and again. That’s no reason to disregard all the good things you’ve said and done.” – PanWolven

      1. I agree. This is not the end of Richard Dawkins, his career, or the subject of atheism. I hope Rebecca can hold on for further back and forth discussion with him. He dismissed you bluntly, he has asked that it be explained where and how he went wrong. I STRONGLY ENCOURAGE that you DO JUST THAT!!! I have been a feminist for a long time, and have been married to a debater for 25 years, and if I gave up my right to keep speaking out I would not be worthy of being a humanist, or feminist. Brace yourself for further discussion. Point out TO HIM PERSONALLY just where he went wrong and what he doesn’t understand. DO NOT DISMISS HIM OR THE GIVE UP THE ARGUMENT, it weakens the cause all around. This is the opportunity feminists need to make our needs and views known.

  2. “I am a feminist, because skeptics and atheists made me one. Every time I mention, however delicately, a possible issue of misogyny or objectification in our community, the response I get shows me that the problem is much worse than I thought, and so I grow angrier. I knew that eventually I would reach a sort of feminist singularity where I would explode and in my place would rise some kind of Captain Planet-type superhero but for feminists.”

    This. THIS. Rebecca, thank you so much. I went through the same exact experience that you described in this post – starting off vaguely considering myself a feminist and thinking we had solved everything, to painfully aware of how in need of a wake up call this movement needs. People complain that I “bitch about feminism too much” – but I do it precisely because of them. They fuel my rage.

    Can I be a Planeteer? As long as I’m not Heart. Apparently I swear too much for that, or something.

  3. Great post! However I don’t think we can completely count RD out yet. The very definition of Male Privilege is the fact that men don’t tend to get it at first. So I would give him a bit more time, write letters and see if we can show him his error. I still hope to see an apology by him but maybe I am being too optimistic.

    1. I agree. Recognizing privilege isn’t easy or comfortable. It took me a long freaking time to come to grips with the privilege I have for being white, upper-middle class, able bodied, and (at least outwardly appearing) straight. When I offered to sit down with Dawkins at TAM, I wasn’t being flippant – I was serious. I’m happy to talk to people to help them understand how women feel. And chatting in person is often more conducive than screaming at each other over the internet.

      So, I still have a bit of hope before I stop attending his talks and buying his books. I assume right now he’s stewing somewhere, not sure why everyone is so cranky with him. Hopefully he’ll make the attempt to understand, in which case some of my respect will be restored.

      1. What Jen said.

        One thing that alarms me about all of this is that we are hoping to make our tent even wider. If the movement can’t absorb constructive criticism sexism, what about constructive criticism about racism?

        1. Oh FFS. Should have read “If the movement can’t absorb constructive criticism about sexism, what about constructive criticism about racism?”

      2. Dawkins still has too much to offer to boycott him, I think.

        But Dawkins also has an intellectual arrogance that makes him easily irritated by seemingly trivial matters and quick to reach for a witheringly sarcastic response, but that also makes it hard for him to quickly back down. (I know I do.)

        I trust he has the intellectual and emotional capacity to realise his mistake and apologise for it.

        His wife, Lalla Ward, is hardly unprivileged, but if Dawkins is struggling with the right perspective on women’s attitudes, maybe he could benefit from her insight before he puts metaphorical pen to metaphorical paper. Just a thought…


      3. I am going to give a nuanced view in this storm in a teacup that has polarised and confused so many people. I write this as a woman who doesn’t mind being hit on, and who moves in circles where I perhaps naively think what you used to think. I don’t fear being raped, and I don’t feel surrounded by misogynists. I also come from the UK, where there might be a real cultural difference that engenders these sentiments.

        I think Rebecca’s initial complaint was entirely reasonable. She was calm and brief about it – and was justifiably made uneasy by the man’s approach of her in the elevator. I wouldn’t personally feel so edgy, but that’s my stance. She made no comment about genuinely fearing rape or assault, and I really do think that the guy was probably well-meaning but oblivious to how uncomfortable he was making her feel.

        I didn’t see, I haven’t seen, the initial comments that got this storm really going on the side of the misogynists/ignoramuses. What I did see was the feminist responses, which from my vantage point looked hysterical – some of which genuinely aggressive and stupid – crying rape – and specifically putting this man down as a premeditative, predatory, sexist bastard – rather than someone who on the face of it sounds as though he would have apologised there and then if he’d known he’d made Rebecca uneasy.

        These feminist responses made me angry, seriously angry. I will admit that I’ve been starting to find feminists within the atheist community to be becoming parodies of themselves. I could not help but balk at that event a while back where a woman protested at being called ‘female’ – and at the response to Elisabeth Cornwell’s talk – even while I agreed that it was obtuse to have a panel about women in atheism populated by men. (And hey, even the panel populated by women still didn’t fail in causing controversy!)

        So this is a war, a polarised and polarising war, that has been stewing for quite a long time now. And I notice part of the problem. I am only picking up on the angry feminist responses – the responses I view as not only aggressive, but stupid and irrational. And PZ and others are completely failing to notice that part of the formula, and are asking the likes of myself why we’re so mad at Rebecca for having the gall to say no to a man who came onto her in the wrong place and at the wrong time, and for communicating that it made her uneasy via YouTube.

        Either side is genuinely failing to see part of the picture – of all the provocations that have catalysed this tempest in a thimble – that have driven some to respond in anger on either side.

        And on a bigger scale, many feminists are guility of what they accuse privileged men (and women) of being: oblivious. As you imply – many men and some women don’t normally live with fear or uneasiness around men, and would quickly brush Elevator Guy off and be done with it. Rebecca sort of did this. It’s obvious that though she was made to feel uneasy, she wasn’t sweating profusely, shaking like a leaf and grabbing for her rape alarm during the incident.

        That is on my level of comprehension. Step back for a minute and imagine how some feminist rhetoric (not necessarily from yourself) looks from that vantage point. All the screaming about potential heinous assault, and how this man is obviously a big horrible mean predatory creep. Imagine how you’d have considered that before ‘converting’ to feminism.

        And then encourage more people to do what you are trying to do and tell myself and others to step back and try to see your vantage point and why YOU are angry. You don’t want to be shouted at about how you should feel about a particular scenario. Curiously, neither do those who disagree with any particular feminist view about said scenario.

        I get the feeling that much of this dispute has involved a crowd of loosely organised people screaming and shouting past each other, with a few composed voices butting in edgeways, but being mostly drowned out by the predominating angst.

        I also think that Richard jumped the gun. I have been involved in a few web dramas involving Richard now, and I can assure you, it is entirely his style to butt in in a passion, while under-informed, and say his sincerely meant but ill-considered and misinformed piece – which, with further reflection he’ll partially retract and apologise for. I hope he does the latter here.

        I don’t even think he saw/heard Rebecca’s actual words before he said what he said. I think he was reacting in a passion to the ‘hysterical feminists’ and took it upon himself to presume that the original source herself had been so impassioned about what happened that early morning in Dublin. This is again, unfortunately, not unlike Richard. For all that he waxes noble about careful skepticism, he is at times more ready to jump to conclusions and fail to do even the most basic research before giving his tuppence.

        I have emailed Richard personally, detailing why Rebecca deserves an apology – even if he never meant to direct his ire towards her personally – and even though Richard and I may still not agree with some of the feminists hanging around. Rebecca personally did nothing to provoke his ire, and he did nothing to avoid it looking as though his words were directed at her personally.

        He may not read that email – but hopefully he will catch wind of some of what is being said, and realise that he rightly owes her an apology, for the manner in which he chose to express his indignation over the drama that flared up in the wake of her words.

        These are my thoughts as they stand right now. Thanks for listening.

        1. There may well be some cultural differnces in the discussions. I am British, resident in the USA and hold a very similar view to you. It does seem to have been inflated beyond what the original situation dictates.

          1. I want to start by saying I’ve been a long time lurker at skepchick and that I really enjoy what you are doing here. I want to start by thanking you Rebecca for all your contributions to both the atheist and feminist community and for inviting this debate. I have to state my biases from the outset I’m a British, white, male, young mid 20s, student studying a profession that could lead to good job prospects, I am not rich and I’m average size. I enjoy debate and engaging ideas and discussing them.
            I see nothing wrong in you finding a guy creepy, that you obviously weren’t attracted to, asking you to his room for coffee at 4am in an elevator. The discomfort was probably heightened by the claustrophobia of being in a confined space compounded by not being able to leave immediately creating, I imagine, an extremely awkward moment. When I’m in elevators I usually can’t wait to leave and have been stuck in one before so I can relate to feeling anxious in elevators on the best of days. Your response was what I imagine anyone would have felt unless it had been someone they really wanted to ask them back to their place. I personally wouldn’t even consider talking to a girl unless people were around and I had a way to leave if (or when) I got knocked back. I personally had a situation where a girl literally tried to jump on me and kiss me while I was sitting down waiting for my girlfriend in the bathroom and I found it to be extremely uncomfortable, she had obviously had too much to drink and she wasn’t interested in talking or finding out if I was interested or not.

            As far as atheist conferences go I have never been to one and I don’t have any desire to attend any. I doubt I would enjoy them and they don’t seem like my scene although I have a passion for discussion of ideas. From the way you have described them I can see how anyone would feel out of place in that environment. Maybe the problem is that a lot of people who participate in the debate online and then attend the events are severely lacking in real life social skills?
            It wouldn’t come as a surprise to me that the majority of people who attend atheist conferences would fall into this category. I also wouldn’t be surprised with the number of people posting such disgusting posts online to you. No one should have to deal with that. I have to be honest though, I’ve received messages with comparable hate, racism, bigotry, anti-Semitism and in just as explicit detail online. Examples could be provided with hate and obscenities spewed online and in messages at public figures such as Justin Beiber, Cheryl Cole, Lady Gaga, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron as well as many others.
            I have to agree with Lordpasternack I think from your legitimate concerns this event has turned into a circus show with all the freaks that seem to have rolled into town. I think Richard Dawkins response is a reaction to that, but in doing so he becomes a prime example of the problem itself. The common ground between the two of you seems to be that you both find female genital mutilation abhorrent, which it is. I think Dawkins trying to compare the treatment of Muslim women to your feelings in that elevator is ridiculous. I have to admit though he doesn’t actually appear to be responding to you, but to the circus show surrounding this whole affair and I really get the impression that he is completely ignorant of your reasonable comments in the first place. Dawkins comes across as extremely uninformed; he is as unreasonable as the people he attempts to criticize. He owes you an apology.
            An example of a comment just as ridiculous as Richard Dawkins just look at Zylla’s:
            “Let’s put another spin on the scenario to see if some of these guys can get it. You’re on an elevator with a guy. He pulls out a gun as he’s talking to you. He doesn’t point it at you, doesn’t threaten you, he’s just holding the gun. Does it really make you feel any safer around this stranger when someone tells you later that it probably wasn’t loaded?”

            Ignoring the phallic imagery of said guy pulling out his “gun” in an elevator, I don’t think this relates to the situation at all and it is just as hyperbolic, if not more so, as Richard Dawkins’ chewing gum example. I think a much more apt example to help a straight male understand the situation would be to get them to imagine having drinks with friends and then when they are drunk and are alone in an elevator to imagine a gay guy asking them if they wanted to go back to his place at 4am for a coffee. The reaction to being asked that question would vary through a wide spectrum depending on the personalities of the people involved. Some would be outraged, some would find it quite comical. I personally find it flattering when I get hit on by anyone and since my brother came out, talking to him about his experiences he tells me that a lot of his gay friends put themselves out there in that way. It is an individual thing. I think it would be interesting to see how Richard Dawkins would react to that situation.

            Imagining that it was a gay guy hitting on a straight guy how do you think this response would be taken to the situation:

            “Just a word to the wise here, gays, don’t do that”.

            I could understand why a straight or gay guy who wasn’t interested in being approached in that way could feel uncomfortable and anxious. I can also understand why others might brush it off as not being a big deal or some people could even want that kind of thing. It’s just a difference in perspective and opinion. I think neither is right or wrong. In this case Rebecca just stated that she found that sort of approach uncomfortable, and then there was a big overreaction by what appear to be feminist commentators online turning this awkward but harmless event into being comparable to rape or as in the above example having a gun pulled out. Dawkins then reacted in just as outrageous hysterical and ridiculous a way. All of which is unfortunate.

            In reality that kind of approach works with some women and men, whether straight or gay. In this case they both appear to have been leaving a bar so I imagine both were probably drunk. Maybe he was genuinely in awe and really enjoys Rebecca’s work like most of us here and wanted to have the chance to talk to her more. I would love to hang out over a coffee to talk about atheism with Rebecca or Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris (but not at 4am in the morning).

            (Note to self, if I find myself in an elevator with Rebecca at 4am don’t ask her back to my place for coffee. Maybe if Sexycelticlady, who I agree with about cultural differences, was in an elevator but I’m still thinking the chance of success would be next to nothing.)

            As for female presence in atheistic circles, I think it is sadly missing, maybe one of the main reasons for that is lack of female role models and so I want to thank you Rebecca for being a pioneer in that respect. I think that the point made about atheism needing to have more leading figures who are female and needing to be more female friendly is an extremely important one and especially if that experience is shared by a large number of women. I don’t think the context of this discussion however is the place for it, but that’s just my opinion. The reason is that the elevator story, which is an awkward social situation, could too easily be used as a straw man when there is a real issue that needs to be addressed. I don’t think Dawkins extremely rude and ignorant response to the feminist hysteria or internet trolls posting ridiculous things about rape and murder which can unfortunately be found online in lots of different forums, while deplorable and unacceptable, are the best examples of misogyny in the community. I would be more interested in accounts of girls and women who want to and have tried to attend events and have found a glass ceiling preventing them from attending.

            As for privilege I think it depends on the social circumstances of the environment, whether social, or work. In certain work environments old white rich men are far from a position of any privilege at all, in others they have all the power. Fame, popularity and being respected by your peers is arguably a position of privilege that Richard Dawkins has, by the same token at that conference and online you are somewhat of an internet celebrity in those circles. I hope you have a growing influence and shape the community for the better and thank you for contributing.

        2. Thank you so much for trying and upholding some reason in a discussion that blew way out of proportion. What I however missed in your response is the point that irritates me the most in what Rebecca said in her initial Video and repeated here, namely the use of the verb “to objectify”. The way I understand this verb it describes a situation where a person is trying to use another as a mere object, a tool of sort to whatever end, instead of acknowledging their persona. Women are objectified when they are seen as (male-)offspring production facilities. You could also argue that objectification occurs when their body is used in order to sell a product or in pornography, although those women consent to that for money, whether you object to that or not. Now merely propositioning to someone does nothing of the like and let me explain why: Inviting someone “for coffee”, if it is done in a none threatening way (and this guy did his best to not seem threatening, however clumsily, given the surroundings), makes one statement and asks one question.
          Statement: “I am attracted to you and would like to get intimate with you in order for us to exchange pleasures.”
          Question: “Do you feel the same way?”
          I don’t see how there’s objectification involved in this, I cannot see it in any other way than as the offer of a “hedonistic contract” with the other party being left with all the power to decide whether to accept or decline that offer, thus taking it (I am being specifically gender neutral here on purpose) at full value as a rational human being.
          This, in my book, is the rational way to view a proposition, leaving out possibilities like the one that this man could have been a big fan of Rebecca and admired her for her intellect as well as her physique or might have been genuinely in love with her, again possibly for what she says rather than what she looks like. Would those facts have changed anything? I don’t think so…


          PS.: About making the first move: If everybody waits for everybody to make the first move, no moves are made and lots of potential joy are never to happen, thus making the world a little colder.

        3. Excellent commentary, since im Irish its probable that im coming from the same cultural ethos as you. I really don’t think that the original story (as it has been told) indicates any sexism or objectification, it seems more to come under the heading of rude and socialy awkward. Also obviously Dawkins should apologise and needs to learn to look before leaping.

        4. If you feel attacked by feminism, it’s a counter-attack.

          When I read a woman saying she was offended or made uncomfortable, I don’t question it, because those aren’t ideas, those are her feelings. To be honest, on the face of it, what happened to Rebecca in the elevator didn’t sound that threatening to me, either, but I wasn’t there, and I didn’t live Rebecca’s life. I have no right to tell her or anyone how they should have felt.

          That whole thing was such a minor part of that video; the fact that people latched onto it and defended that random guy suggests to me that the oversensitive and even “hysterical” ones are the critics.

          1. It seems that a lot of people want to hold Rebecca accountable for what seem to be the ideas behind the feelings. If a white person felt uncomfortable in the close proximity of a brown-person and were moved to say something about it, or do something innocuous like clutch their purse or wallet, I think a lot of people currently at Rebecca’s defense now would not feel sympathy for that hypothetical person’s feelings. They may even call them racist and say their discomfort expresses a pre-judgement passed on all dark-skinned people. You could take an example out of the atheist-community and point to how religious people appeal to their feelings about a number of issues, and we’d be confronted with the same community prerogative to say “no, your feelings don’t get a free pass to validate your assumptions about this person or these people”.

            Now, what Rebecca has on her side are a slew of additional unambiguous examples of men making her feel uncomfortable and directly threatening her, but what some (not all) skeptics in this conversation seem to want is some objectivity about this case. It’s a good question whether objectivity is possible here, but then more seems at stake then just Rebecca relating her discomfort and our supporting her.

          2. @pdxmole

            “If a white person felt uncomfortable in the close proximity of a brown-person and were moved to say something about it, or do something innocuous like clutch their purse or wallet…”

            Hmm, this is a very good point and I had not thought of it that way but that really does make things rather clear doesn’t it?

            In your above example, the white person would definitely be in the wrong for being racist.

            My fathers store was robbed twice when I was a kid, both times the robbers were black. The facts are that 2 black robberies occurred at my fathers store and 0 white robberies. However I don’t label all black people as thieves because of these events. If I did, I would be racist.

            Likewise if Rebecca is uncomfortable enough to want to speak out about it. What is she uncomfortable about? He has no weapon, he is being nice and polite to her, he is not restricting her freedom of movement in any way. What is the concern here then? I could be wrong, maybe there is something I had not thought of, but does this not limit the possibility that Rebecca was uncomfortable in the confined space due to fear or sexual assault?

            If Rebecca was afraid of sexual assault from a man who has threatened her in no way what so ever and has not restricted her in any way, does this not make her the same as the white guy clutching his wallet because a black guy is standing close to him, in the above example? Would this not in and of itself be sexist? Just because some guys rape women doesn’t mean that you should react as if all guys will rape you.

            If there is a flaw in this logic, please post, but it seems fairly reasonable to me.

        5. ^^This.

          I read RW’s initial description of the event and understood her epistle as a well-deserved metaphorical rolled up newspaper to the nose of a classless cad, albeit one who might learn something from the swat.

          Instead, it has become a story about her being sexually harassed in an elevator by an evil monster who might very well have been one thought away from rape; a clearly unfair characterization in the minds of those who view such a claim as hysterical, and a completely justified characterization in the minds of those who may have felt the same discomfort RW related in her blog post.

          This might be a good moment for both sides to take a step back reconsider their premises. That RW was made to feel uncomfortable because of the potential for harm shouldn’t be a difficult thing to understand. That the idiot who followed her into the elevator behaved badly, albeit with no intentional malice, should be equally obvious.

        6. Well said. I couldn’t have said it better. God knows I’ve tried, in this thread, to no avail!

        7. Lordpasternak, thank you so much for this. I’ve tried vainly and without success — much of the problem being my lack of eloquence and poor writing — to say much the same thing.

          In response to the more irrational, myopic, and extreme feminist viewpoints and comments on this issue, I’d like to reiterate what one commentor posted at Pharyngula (also in response to the more extreme feminist viewpoints): Come back Andrea Dworkin; all is forgiven!

        8. @lordpasternack

          I don’t think you’re clearing the issue up- I think you’re brushing off the ‘wild, crazy feminists’ without considering maybe there’s a legitimate reason why they’re upset.

          Not everyone was claiming the man in the elevator was planning to or seriously considering raping her. I think a lot of the discussion focused instead around looking into why this man made this proposition when he clearly knew her feelings about people not considering the context of situations before doing something- namely, the systems that many people, and often men, operate in without thinking they’re part of them at all. In this very particular situation, you agreed the guy hadn’t considered her feelings and made a bad call. But you don’t acknowledge that there is a bigger issue at work here.
          I think the dissent came in response to comments from people who showed clearly they didn’t understand the context their opinions were operating in. Yes, the guy could have wanted sex, and in the mind of many people complaining that guys have it hard, he was just a nice guy awkwardly trying to get some. Rebecca could have been okay with it, as people sometimes are, but she wasn’t. There are crude come-ons made all the time, and sometimes the person, namely you (as you said) are okay with them and sometimes they aren’t. But the fact that many men assume they can make these comments and it is always okay to do it, and that no one should get up and yell, shows a level of privilege and obliviousness that is problematic.

    2. dpeabody makes a good point. Dawkins comes from an older generation who don’t always see what might be fairly obvious to people who ate more aware of feminist issues. Also, we should probably presume that he is open to reason, and EXPLAIN the issue. Dawkins takes the trouble to repeat his arguments many times to hostile audiences. We should do the same, politely and without making it a personal attack, and see how he responds. Not making excuses for him, but we should be able to clearly explain the problem.

  4. Well said! As of now, you are my favorite atheist. And considering how I tend to dislike hard-core atheists like Dawkins, I admire you beyond description. Even as a man, I’m so sick of men treating women like they are property, or should be property, or anything less than autonomous fellow human beings.

    I’ve been saying for sometime that we need to focus more on reviving feminism than defending atheism. See this:


  5. I think the most revealing part about all of this is the number of people that responded in such emotional ways. I follow you on twitter and the like and it’s not uncommon to see post about your daily life. Your comment was so incredibly harmless that I’m shocked to see the outcome. The only reason I can think of is that there are still lots of people who are all incredibly sexist. And most of them don’t seem to realize it.

  6. I’m stunned. If someone had simply told me Dawkins was spouting this clueless gibberish I wouldn’t have believed it.

    Sadly, I am not at all surprised at the number of guys posting on Phil Plait and PZ’s posts who don’t get it. Skeptics, comics, sf, fantasy, gaming – oddly interrelated gatherings – featuring women vastly outnumbered (less so these days, fortunately) in areas where morons do actively hit on, maneuver, badger and attack women all the time. Female guests as well as attendees have found themselves accosted by other guests and attendees for decades.

    For anyone here not understanding the incident:

    It’s not that every guy is always on the prowl. In this instance, he 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 alone in a hotel elevator 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 to see if some of these guys can get it. You’re on an elevator with a guy. He pulls out a gun as he’s talking to you. He doesn’t point it at you, doesn’t threaten you, he’s just holding the gun. Does it really make you feel any safer around this stranger when someone tells you later that it probably wasn’t loaded? Within the context of this situation (woman alone on an elevator at 4AM with a stranger who asks her to come back to his room for *any* reason), the woman has no idea what his reaction will be to being rebuffed, however kindly she declines, 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 a complete ogre. But it’s not a cheesy scene from a movie from the “free love” ’70s, and until they parted and the elevator doors securely closed 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. Or no one 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?

    1. This post should be required reading for this thread. Spot. Fucking. On.


  7. Rebecca, this is wonderfully well put. You, and so many of the skeptical women whom I know, are awesome.

    I agree completely. Dawkins is part of the past. The future will be better.

    I look forward to seeing you at TAM9 and giving you a Lollibake, in the most un-creepy manner possible. ;-)

  8. I’m on your side Rebecca. Don’t get discouraged. Some of us (dudes) can see what’s going on.

  9. Rebecca,

    I haven’t said it yet – I’ve just been trying to wrap my mind around these issues and figure out where I stand – but THANK YOU. Thank you for everything you do for feminism and for challenging the entrenched privilege of the atheist/skeptic movement. You’re an excellent role model and an incredibly strong person to continue to stand up and speak out in the face of so much anger. Keep doing what you’re doing – we’re all better for it.

  10. I can’t speak regarding the atheist movement generally; I’m not an atheist in the way most people understand the term, though I use the term non-theist, and I’m not involved in any specifically atheist or non-theist groups. However, I think that anyone who believes that modern western society, or any specific organisation, is free of sexism and misogyny, is sadly deluded.

    I feel very strongly for your experiences in trying to address these issues in this movement. I actually finally turned up to have a look here after reading about this furore on Blaghag, and the amazing thing is the absolute storm or inanity (and insanity), mostly from horribly defensive men, that such issues always seem to raise. Do so many have no interest in learning about this, or are they so emotionally insecure they can’t handle a challenge to their worldview? I don’t know, I suspect we never will know, but it frustrates and infuriates me.

  11. If there was a Team Rebecca t-shirt, I’d be wearing it right now.

  12. I may be in the minority in that I didn’t have a terribly high opinion of Dawkins’ personality even prior to this point (his intellect, yes, but that’s different), but that comment is something that frankly surprised me. I sure hope that his account on Pharyngula wasn’t hacked because that was my first thought upon reading the comment there. Have we checked to be sure it really was him? If so, it makes me even less of a fan.

    Anyway, Rebecca, I was glad to see PZ sticking up for you. Sadly, I stopped attending IRL atheist events quite a while ago, and the hostile atmosphere was part of the reason for that. What you did and said sounded very reasonable to me. While I am not surprised to see the backlash, I to am glad for the positive voices I am finding.

    1. You are not in the minority. About 8 years ago Dawkins and I debated via email regarding an observation by him in Skeptical Inquirer. I learned then that even though one had to indeed respect his intellect, personality wise he was an arrogant ass if you didn’t see things exactly his way. However, that didn’t dissuade me from buying his books or supporting his activism for atheism over the intervening years… until now. He really crossed the line on this issue.

      I too was appalled by his response to Rebecca; especially his comment about how easy it is to exit an elevator by just pressing a button.

      Hang in there Rebecca.

  13. i know nothing about the coffee-asker in question, but hasn’t it been fun to shame him and paint him as a potential rapist? He must really be feeling good about himself right now.

    1. But she didn’t. All she said was “Don’t do that” because it drives women away.

  14. Captain Skepchick
    She’s our hero
    Going to take misogyny down to zero

  15. Excellent. Wish I could go to TAM9 and tell you in person…but I’ll happily do it here. You and Greta and Amanda and Jen (and a few others) have taught me quite a bit, and I’m grateful and thrilled to do what I can to help make sure the future is a clear improvement.

    Thanks for what you do and for being generally awesome.

  16. Keep the measured responses, keep the logical arguments, and make them realize the consequences of their own statements. Sometimes people just say stupid things without realizing the logical consequences. Sometimes they’re idiots. One day they’re going to reflect on this and realize they were wrong, unless they are really just too motivated to be right to question if they’re wrong.

  17. I don’t agree with the way Dawkins belittled what you’ve been through and overreacted to your video. But I don’t think is fair to put it like he belittled rape threat messages you get. Isn’t all of this overreacting to his overreaction? (I’m not being sarcastic.. I’m really asking!)

  18. We are morally obligated to confront ignorant bigotry. Do not be willing to write off Richard Dawkins simply as a relic of the past, instead seek to engage him. We all deserve that much respect, the opportunity to change our minds.

    Writing this off as something to be expected from old, wealthy, white men is to be as narrow minded and ignorant as the comments by Richard Dawkins.

    1. you mention his race, gender, social status like “that’s the way ‘those’ people are” and you want to confront bigotry? You can disagree with the point Dawkins all you like, but you needn’t bring any of that up in the process.

  19. I can’t imagine how discouraging this must have been for you; I felt pessimistic reading the slew of obtuse privilege denying crap myself. I can’t express how grateful I am for your dedication and vigilance. I can only hope that as more and more young adults begin to find the skeptic and atheist communities that we can begin to shed this ridiculous lack of privilege recognition.

    Thank you.

  20. PZ just cut off comments at his site and directed us here, so I would like to post my reply to two people from that thread here. If it isn’t OK, feel free to delete this.

    @TVS #348

    Embedding negative stereotypes into an otherwise unrelated cartoon…

    Both MGolz and I have tried to explain above (see #208 for starters) why negative stereotypes are not embedded in this cartoon and how that is a misreading by people not familiar with Ray Comfort’s antics.

    @lasraellarson #370

    This is fairly anonymous dialogue online & I am not going to make any character judgements about you based off a couple postings. I don’t know you. I can’t see your facial expressions, etc. You are a stranger.

    I don’t know why you even went there at all. Not knowing anything about other commenters is standard affair in blog comments.

    What did you think I meant, to call that a “creepy” comment & why am I riding a “High Horse?”

    Well, I didn’t size you up so why did you accuse me of doing that? Also, I don’t know why you think you need to know more about me to understand what I wrote.

    If I seem hostile, I certainly am not intending it. All I am saying is, until something non consensual actually happens, I do not agree that this guy is a creep.

    I see. That has nothing to do with Ray Comfort (a.k.a. Bananaman) being mistaken for a stereotyped gay man, though, which is the issue I was addressing. Several people on this thread seem to not know who he is.

  21. Rebecca,

    I just want you to know that not all privileged white males are as clueless as Richard Dawkins. I’m only 46 and not overly rich, but still…

    I have two sons and a daughter, and I want all of them to respect other human beings AS human beings. I hope that’s what I’ve taught them, and I will certainly make sure they see what’s happened here and learn from it.

    In some ways, this has been a good thing for skeptics and atheists – like when the tide rolls out, we get to see all that crap that’s washed up on the beach. Now we can shine a little light on ourselves and our own shortcomings.

    Thank you and keep up the good work.

  22. I agree with a lot of this but what does the fact that Richard Dawkins is wealthy, old, white or heterosexual have to do with anything? It may or may not be a flippant remark but I see only the fact that he is man having anything to do with his ‘position’.

    And YouTube comments or email? I realise the internet is for a large part this movement’s domain, and it’s where the majority of debate might take place. But these things should NEVER be taken at face value, nor at ‘troll’ value. The hate and misogyny in comments is most likely artifice for the most part. Just don’t read it. Deal with the real world or you’ll end up at the bottom of a deep and pointless rabbit hole.

    1. “what does the fact that Richard Dawkins is wealthy, old, white or heterosexual have to do with anything?”

      Without starting an argument or presuming to answer for anyone, I think they matter because they are indicators of privilege. There is a certain privilege that goers with being wealthy, with being male, with being white, and with being heterosexual. It’s not asked for, and it’s more often implicit rather than explicit, but it can colour the way people see the world.

      1. These privileges would only colour your perspective in situations relevant to them specifically. Your wealth would be relevant in a discussion about poverty, material wealth, the ‘value’ of money etc. Being old might colour your views regarding certain popular opinions or morals (being old fashioned) – which might be relevant here, or may not. (Anyway being old is hardly a privilege! Surely it’s the opposite – the arrogance of youth and all..). White – again, only relevant if you are living in an environment where people are experiencing differing treatment based on race. And heterosexual, well you get the idea. I assume the basic point is.. the more privileged you are, the less empathy you have? Lots of things can colour the way people see the world. I’m struggling to see the connections here. It’s a bit of a muddle.

        1. Actually, the more areas you are privileged in, the less likely you are able to empathise with anybody else, not just in the areas of that individual privilege. Generally speaking, straight white rich men have had the world handed to them on a platter. Even if it wasn’t, once they reach that status they’re treated as the elite.

          If you’ve got it all—money, fair skin, a penis, and an attraction to women—then you will almost certainly be judged on your abilities, and your personality, rather than a superficial attribute. But a black man will still face racism. A gay man will still face homophobia. And a woman will still face sexism.

          Black or gay or female, you’re more likely to understand privilege than somebody who isn’t any of those things.

        2. Well then wouldn’t your poverty be relevant in a discussion about wealth (or poverty)? Wouldn’t being young colour your views regarding morals? Being black relevant in environment where people are being treated different based on race (eg. Affirmative Action)?

          This whole “White Male Privilege” thing is much more irrational than you make out. Turns out that the door swings both ways.

          It’s based on typical faulty reasoning on the left that they inherited from Marxism, and other sources. It’s the old hominem argument. These religious movements, and make no mistake Marxism is a kind of religion, always have a means to discredit non-believers. Instead of, don’t listen to him he’s speaking for the devil, it’s don’t because he’s bourgeoisie.

          There are two kinds of rich people that matter. Those who’ve earned it like Dawkins, and those who’ve stole it like Ponzi. Even the fact that you’ve stole your way to wealth only should enter an argument under certain circumstances.

          Now it might be the case that you could argue that Dawkin’s doesn’t know what it feels like not to be rich, but that would only be the case had he inherited his wealth. Well he didn’t.

          Every single one of the commenters who believe in White Privilege as defined in Marxist ideology is an irrationalist or a hypocrite, whether they know it or not.

          1. brianmacker,

            “Every single one of the commenters who believe in White Privilege as defined in Marxist ideology is an irrationalist or a hypocrite, whether they know it or not.”

            Speaking of irrationalist, how irrational is it to attribute a concept to Marx and argue that its alleged antecedents as a Marxist concept discredit it—the fallacy of the poisoned well. Not to mention, you even managed to poison the wrong well. The concept doesn’t come from orthodox (or even unorthodox) Marxism at all, but rather comes from the sociological/historical research of W.E.B. Du Bois, who first introduced the concept of the “public and psychological wage” of white privilege in his book Black Reconstruction in America:

            “It must be remembered that the white group of laborers, while they received a low wage, were compensated in part by a sort of public and psychological wage. They were given public deference and titles of courtesy because they were white. They were admitted freely with all classes of white people to public functions, public parks, and the best schools. The police were drawn from their ranks, and the courts, dependent on their votes, treated them with such leniency as to encourage lawlessness. Their vote selected public officials, and while this had small effect upon the economic situation, it had great effect upon their personal treatment and the deference shown them. White schoolhouses were the best in the community, and conspicuously placed, and they cost anywhere from twice to ten times as much per capita as the colored schools. The newspapers specialized on news that flattered the poor whites and almost utterly ignored the Negro except in crime and ridicule.”

          2. Nullifidian,

            You have extremely poor reading comprehension skills.

            First, Marxist ideology is much broader than what Marx wrote. It includes what his self proclaimed followers write, and believe. Just as Christian ideology is broader that what Christ wrote. Expecially given that Christ wrote nothing.

            Second, “White Privilege as defined in Marxist Ideology” is not “poisoning the well”. I certainly made no claim that WP was invalid because it came from Marx, or Marx’s followers. So you fail in basic logic.

            What I was doing was identifying a source so that it would not be confused with other concepts from other sources. It’s like saying “Charm as defined in physics” so that someone doesn’t get confused and think you are talking about the charm you get from charm school.

            It’s quite clear that at one time. Especially the time of W.E.B. Du Bois there was explicit privileges given to Whites. For example having the privilege of sitting at the front of the bus while blacks had to sit in the back.

            Those are explicit privileges like todays Affirmative Action, or granting competitive bids preferentially to women.

            However I wasn’t talking about merely the words “White Privilege” next to each other in some ancient text, nor the quite clear white privilege inherent in the antibellum South. I was talking about the newly minted Marxian concept that uses the same label.

            The Marxian concept of White Privilege does not mean privilege at all. The modifier “White” here is mean to denote a completely different thing that what the word privilege denotes. It’s sort of like “White Justice”, you know, lynching, which is not justice at all. This is a trick used to smuggle in an unacceptible concept via an acceptible one and also an equivocation.

            In this case “White Privilege” is a racist assumption about whites. It’s only pretending to be about the unfair advantages that whites have merely by having white skin.

            I covered why it is irrational in the link I posted below.

            Nice try though, but you failed.

          3. LMAO!

            Right, you only called people who accepted the concept of “white privilege” as a useful one for describing certain circumstances as “irrational” or “hypocritical”, and did so while associating the term with Marxism. Of course, that wasn’t an attempt at poisoning the well! How could I have been so blind? It’s just like how asking a woman to take coffee in your hotel room at 4 in the morning has no possible subtext at all.

            And, again, white privilege is not a concept that is incorporated into conventional Marxist doctrine of *any* stripe. Not Marxist-Leninism, not Stalinism, not Trotskyism, not the Frankfurt School, not Althusserianism, etc. Believe me, I’m actually someone who has taken the time to know the difference, instead of just throwing out “Marxist” as an all-purpose pejorative.

            “White privilege” is a concept from critical race theory, not Marxism, and the fact that you refuse to grok this difference suggests that your concerns are not with the facts, but with a kind of ideological purity that rests on associating anything you perceive as “leftist” with Marx, regardless of its true origins.

            Incidentally, the ‘rebuttal’ you’re so proud of rests on being completely ignorant of the history and meaning of white privilege.

            This quote is representative of your nonsense: “First there is white privilege, the theory, which is a post modernist (a philosophy derived from Marxist nonsense) politically correct hypothesis about the how the world works.”

            There are two major errors in just this one sentence. First off, a concept that was discussed by W.E.B. Du Bois in 1935 cannot be postmodernist, as it predates the trend we call postmodernist by a quarter of a century. Secondly, postmodernism is NOT Marxist. If you had even consulted the briefest potted introduction to Marxist thought, you’d know that Marxism in all its traditional forms is modernist, not postmodernist. A postmodern Marxism cannot be had without being shot of most of the concepts that make Marxism Marxism, including but not limited to Marx’s conception of history, his acceptance of the Enlightenment project, and so on.

            This is not to say that there aren’t some people out there trying to bridge the gap—there are, just as in anarchism, despite its roots in Enlightenment thought, there is a strain called “postanarchism”—but the reason that there is a gap in the first place is precisely because these two traditions emerged *independent* of one another.

            In short, you don’t know what you’re talking about, and you’re too smug and self-satisfied to care.

          4. No. The Marxists came up with this nonsense. Google “White Privilege” and Marx. Learn the history of ideas before you spout off with your ignorance.

            I’ve explained clearly and only a dope or someone with bad intentions would not get it at this point.

          5. Repeating right-wing buzzwords and tropes is not any sort of demonstration. A demonstration would consist in, you know, actually providing citations like I did to Du Bois, not just by making speculative associations between ideas you don’t like and then taking these mental spasms for insight.

            So which postmodernist *originated* the idea of white privilege? Lyotard? Derrida? Foucault (who hated the term “postmodernist”)? Deleuze and Guattari, either singly or in association? Kristeva? Latour? Irigaray? Butler? Can you cite your sources, and then *also* prove that the postmodernist who ‘originated’ the idea was also an orthodox Marxist? I doubt it for two reasons: first, you’re too cocksure to bother to learn about the ideas you attempt to trash, and second because you’re simply wrong.

          6. P.S. Just to humor you, I did end up Googling for “white privilege” and Marx (with quotes around the former, so as to search for the phrase and not the individual words), not because I have any reason to believe you about Marx, nor because I think the internet is an unfailingly accurate source of information, but because I knew that what I would get as hits wouldn’t support your allegation.

            And I couldn’t have been more right. The very first hit Google returned was to an anarchist critique of Marxism’s complete inattention to the issues of gender and race, though the article focuses specifically on race.

            “Marxism, in both the authoritarian (“Orthodox”) tradition and in the libertarian tradition, has had a few noticeable Achilles’ Heels, which have had drastic consequences. Gender and race top the list. Here, I mostly intend to focus on race, although at least passing comments on gender will be unavoidable.”

            Chris Wright, “Marxism and White Skin Privilege”

          7. Since DuBois was a Marxist it kinda makes your whole stupid argument mute from the start.

            I know you’ll be too intellectually lazy to follow up on that search so here you go. A quote that sums it up for you:
            “The roots of the white skin privilege analysis lie in the work of WEB DuBois, a black Marxist historian whose most important book was Black Reconstruction in America: 1860-1880 (published in 1935).”

            You know that libertarians also claim that the “roots” of libertarian ideas start way back too. Which is true but does NOT indicate that the founding fathers were libertarians. Thus Du Bois is not neccessarily talking about the current form of White Privilege theory (which has been influenced by post modernism).

            You are like a libertarian claiming that it is not a recent development because free thinkers used the word libertarian during the Enlightenment.

            Likewise Du Bois is actually discussing real shit like Jim Crow laws, and labor unions discrimination. Yes, there is a psychological burden when your government sets out privileges like Affirmative Action for others based on your race. When government funded schools teach that your race is morally inferior to others. It is when and where all that fell away for blacks that the idea was transformed into the hideous monster you like. Du Bois might even laugh at the ideas expressed in “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”.

            Here’s another quote so we can be clear:
            “A number of different theoretical frameworks have contended among communists. One of them is the theory of white skin privilege — which has itself taken several forms.”

            Newer more racist forms of this racist garbage now take the form of “Whiteness Studies”?

            You need to understand the roots of your beliefs. Furthermore you need to question them and think skeptically about them. It’s obvious you do neither.

            .. and YES post modernism was intimately involved in the development of the latest of the “several forms” of White Privilege theory.

            I’m posting this mostly for the others on this forum who might believe your nonsense and not bother to check up on it. I know at this point you will likely never reflect upon your mistaken beliefs.

            I think these ideas morph into new forms because they are invalidated by social changes, or are falsified by events, or people wise up to them.

          8. Brian Macker:

            “Since DuBois was a Marxist it kinda makes your whole stupid argument mute from the start.”

            The word is “moot”.

            And even taking the blog post itself at its word, it does not establish what you claim it establishes, because white privilege is not a concept that falls out of engagement with Marxist thought, even critical engagement, but is entirely incidental to it. That a Marxist may come up with an idea is not sufficient evidence that this idea must be Marxist, but your absurd notion would require us to attribute everything a Marxist writes to their Marxism. Thus Anton Pannekoek’s theories about the evolution of stars and galaxies must be Marxist by operation of the same principle.

            “.. and YES post modernism was intimately involved in the development of the latest of the “several forms” of White Privilege theory.”

            This is an assertion, not evidence. Evidence would actually consist of pointing out *which* postmodernist theorist developed the concept of white privilege and citing his or her work.

            “Yes, there is a psychological burden when your government sets out privileges like Affirmative Action for others based on your race.”

            Brian, this is irrelevant to a discussion of the concept of white privilege.

            “When government funded schools teach that your race is morally inferior to others.”

            This does not happen.

            “It is when and where all that fell away for blacks that the idea was transformed into the hideous monster you like.”

            You have no rational basis for assuming anything about my likes and dislikes.

            “Du Bois might even laugh at the ideas expressed in “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”.”

            Anybody might do anything. You might suddenly start backing up your claims with substantive evidence and begin making sense, but I’m not going to take the Vegas odds on that one.

            “I’m posting this mostly for the others on this forum who might believe your nonsense and not bother to check up on it. I know at this point you will likely never reflect upon your mistaken beliefs.”

            Well, then for the sake of the lurkers, why don’t you cite the postmodernist theorist who is responsible for the concept of white privilege as presently constituted (of course, first you’ll have to demonstrate that you know what it is—something you haven’t been overwhelmingly successful at yet)? Why don’t you cite the Marxist ideas that Du Bois or any other critical race theorist was addressing when they discuss white privilege? And why don’t you explain precisely what my beliefs are and how they are mistaken?

          9. Here is one inheritance hierarchy that is easily constructed from these wiki quotes.

            Frankfurt School
            Critical Theory
            Whiteness Studies
            Critical Legal Studies
            Critical Race Theory
            White Privilege

            Of course there is no strict hierarchy here as this area is a incestuous crossbreeding of illogical and irrational disciplines, covering law, literary studies, and sociology. One thing is common to all. They are a bunch of Marxists, including Du Bois.

            Frankfurt School
            “The Frankfurt School (German: Frankfurter Schule) refers to a school of neo-Marxist interdisciplinary social theory,[1] particularly associated with the Institute for Social Research at the University of Frankfurt am Main. The school initially consisted of dissident Marxists who believed that some of Marx’s followers had come to parrot a narrow selection of Marx’s ideas, usually in defense of orthodox Communist parties.”

            Critical Theory

            “In the sociological context, critical theory refers to a style of Marxist theory with a tendency to engage with non-Marxist influences (for instance the work of Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud).[1] This tendency is, according to the stricter Marxists, revisionism. Modern critical theory arose from a trajectory extending from the nonpositivist sociology of Max Weber and Georg Simmel, the Marxist theory of Georg Lukács and Antonio Gramsci, toward the milieu associated with Frankfurt Institute of Social Research.”

            “Critical theory was first defined by Max Horkheimer of the Frankfurt School of sociology in his 1937 essay Traditional and Critical Theory: Critical theory is a social theory oriented toward critiquing and changing society as a whole, in contrast to traditional theory oriented only to understanding or explaining it. Horkheimer wanted to distinguish critical theory as a radical, emancipatory form of Marxian theory, critiquing both the model of science put forward by logical positivism and what he and his colleagues saw as the covert positivism and authoritarianism of orthodox Marxism and Communism.”


            “‘Postmodernism’ is used in critical theory to refer to a point of departure for works of literature, drama, architecture, cinema, journalism, and design, as well as in marketing and business and in the interpretation of law, culture, and religion in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.[1] Indeed, postmodernism, particularly as an academic movement, can be understood as a reaction to modernism in the Humanities.”

            Critical Legal Studies

            “Critical legal studies is a movement in legal thought that applied methods similar to those of critical theory (the Frankfurt School) to law. The abbreviations “CLS” and “Crit” are sometimes used to refer to the movement and its adherents.”

            Critical Race Theory

            “Appearing in US law schools in the mid- to late 1980s, Critical Race Theory inherited many of its political and intellectual commitments from civil rights scholarship and Critical Legal Studies, even as the movement departed significantly from both.”

            “Many mainstream legal scholars have criticized CRT on a number of grounds, including some scholars’ use of narrative and storytelling, as well as the critique of objectivity adopted by critical race theorists in connection with the critique of merit. Daniel Farber and Suzanna Sherry have argued that critical race theory, along with critical feminism and critical legal studies, has anti-Semitic and anti-Asian implications, has worked to undermine notions of democratic community and has impeded dialogue.[8] Judge Richard Posner of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago has “label[ed] critical race theorists and postmodernists the ‘lunatic core’ of ‘radical legal egalitarianism.’”[9] He writes,

            What is most arresting about critical race theory is that…it turns its back on the Western tradition of rational inquiry, forswearing analysis for narrative. Rather than marshal logical arguments and empirical data, critical race theorists tell stories — fictional, science-fictional, quasi-fictional, autobiographical, anecdotal — designed to expose the pervasive and debilitating racism of America today. By repudiating reasoned argumentation, the storytellers reinforce stereotypes about the intellectual capacities of nonwhites.[10]

            Judge Alex Kozinski, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, writes that Critical Race Theorists have constructed a philosophy which makes a valid exchange of ideas between the various disciplines unattainable.

            The radical multiculturalists’ views raise insuperable barriers to mutual understanding. Consider the Space Traders story. How does one have a meaningful dialogue with Derrick Bell? Because his thesis is utterly untestable, one quickly reaches a dead end after either accepting or rejecting his assertion that white Americans would cheerfully sell all blacks to the aliens. The story is also a poke in the eye of American Jews, particularly those who risked life and limb by actively participating in the civil rights protests of the 1960s. Bell clearly implies that this was done out of tawdry self-interest. Perhaps most galling is Bell’s insensitivity in making the symbol of Jewish hypocrisy the little girl who perished in the Holocaust — as close to a saint as Jews have. A Jewish professor who invoked the name of Rosa Parks so derisively would be bitterly condemned — and rightly so.[11]”

            White Privilege

            “In critical race theory, white privilege is a way of conceptualizing racial inequalities that focuses as much on the advantages that white people accrue from society as on the disadvantages that people of color experience.”

            “Scholars within the legal studies field of critical race theory, such as Cheryl Harris[1] and George Lipsitz,[2] have argued …”

            Whiteness Studies

            “A central tenet of whiteness studies is a reading of history and its effects on the present, inspired by postmodernism and historicism, in which the very concept of racial superiority is said to have been socially constructed in order to justify discrimination against non-whites.”

          10. This is the hierarchy from wiki:
            -Frankfurt School
            —Critical Theory
            ——–Whiteness Studies
            —–Critical Legal Studies
            ——-Critical Race Theory
            ———-White Privilege

            I posted another comment with spaces indenting to the levels but it stripped the leading spaces. It includes a lot of links and the quotes so it is being held in moderation. Each wiki article on the topic claims that one came from the prior.

          11. So basically your big demonstration of the history of ideas comes from nested keywords in Wikipedia articles?! ROTFLMAO!

            At this point, I don’t know if you’re being serious or just fucking around. Either way, if I were a Comp 101 professor, I’d be giving this an “F”.

            I’m pretty much done here, because it’s obvious that you’re not going to answer my questions with specific, cited answers for the simple reason that you don’t actually know what it is you’re talking about. You know nothing about postmodernism, Marxism, or white privilege other than what you’ve gleaned from skimming stuff on the web and have then reconstructed in the most unflattering light in what you are pleased to call your mind. Your approach is one of intellectual sloppiness and mental indolence.

            When you’ve actually read some Marx above and beyond the Communist Manifesto, which is what everyone claims they’ve read, some works of critical race theory, and some postmodernism, then maybe you’ll be capable of having a discussion on them. But given your demonstrated habit of reading something only to reject it, I’m not about to bet the farm on it.

          12. LOL, I don’t have to defend your straw man of my position. I need only support my claim, or in this case sentence fragment, “White Privilege as defined in Marxist ideology”. Which as I said was descriptive so that no one would think I was saying that Jim Crow law was not a case of White Privilege. Since these groups self identify as Marxists I think it’s fair to call them Marxists. I’ve even shown the inheritance structure for these ideological schools of thought. This stuff is extremely popular on Marxist web sites.

            What is especially hilarious is that you have done none of the things you want me to do. You even quoted a Marxist, Du Bois, to show that White Privilege Theory did not arise from Marxist ideology. Silly you. What? Do you think it proves that Islamists, or Christian Fundamentalists invented it?

          13. Brian Macker:

            “I need only support my claim, or in this case sentence fragment, “White Privilege as defined in Marxist ideology”.”

            Great. Let me know when you intend to do so, because so far you haven’t. You haven’t shown any Marxist ideology in which the concept of “white privilege” is uniquely and specifically defined separate from any other uses of the term “white privilege” outside the Marxist sphere.

            “Since these groups self identify as Marxists I think it’s fair to call them Marxists.”

            Which groups? You aren’t even making basic syntactical sense anymore. I’ve got news for you: if you’re trying to argue that all critical race theorists identify as Marxists, they don’t. If you’re trying to assert that postmodernists generally identify as Marxists—another of your speculative, that is to say false, associations—that’s not the case either. And you certainly haven’t shown that the concept of “white privilege” is either derived from postmodernist theory or from engagement with Marxist thought.

            I’ve even shown the inheritance structure for these ideological schools of thought.

            LMAO! We’re back to the argument by nested hyperlinks in Wikipedia. By this standard, I can associate whiteness studies with Michel de Montaigne and Giambattista Vico (whiteness studies –> historicism –> G.B. Vico and Michel de Montaigne).

            “This stuff is extremely popular on Marxist web sites.”

            LOL! Yes, trust me on this, because you know I’m so well informed about the history of Marxist thought with my access to Wikipedia, and because Marxist websites are such a good substitute for engagement with the writings of traditional Marxist theorists.

            “What is especially hilarious is that you have done none of the things you want me to do.”

            And neither have you. Instead you run to Wikipedia to make your case. That’s what’s hilarious.

            “You even quoted a Marxist, Du Bois, to show that White Privilege Theory did not arise from Marxist ideology. Silly you.”

            No, I quoted W.E.B. Du Bois, who was a Stalinist, not a Marxist, to establish where the concept of white privilege did come from, and that it predated postmodernist theory by a quarter of a century.

            Now, you, in order to show that the concept of white privilege arose from Marxist ideology, must demonstrate that the concept arises as part of an engagement with Marx’s thought. The fallacy that if a Marxist came up with X, it must be a Marxist concept is not an appropriate substitute.

          14. LOL, a guy who implicitly claims Stalin isn’t a Marxist, is obviously an ideologue with his nose so far up Marx’s ass he’s lost all objectivity. Stalin and a whole host of other totalitarian dictators were Marxists include Mao, and Pol Pot. They sure weren’t Christians. Other evil bastards like Lenin and Trotsky were also Marxists.

            Yeah, I have no reason for thinking you “like” this stuff.

            You’re like a Baptist claiming Mormonism isn’t derived from Christianity, because it’s not “orthodox” to quote you. Then whining that I can’t make that claim because I haven’t imbibed deeply of Baptist ideology.

            I’ve read enough to determine it’s bullshit. The end product pooped out by a bunch of Marxists is racist garbage of the worst kind. I’ve read the end product, and it’s circular reasoning at its worst. Of course, you never address this, because you want to push a bunch of straw man arguments on me.

            W. E. B. Du Bois – Marxist
            David Roediger – Marxist
            Noel Ignatiev – Marxist
            Karen Brodkin – Marxist
            Jacques Derrida – Marxist

            A bunch of the postmodernists were Marxists also.

            So yes White Privilege is Marxist derived bullshit, just as Intelligent Design is Christian derived bullshit.

            … and of course you never did defend the concept against my linked criticism.

          15. brianmacker:
            “LOL, a guy who implicitly claims Stalin isn’t a Marxist, is obviously an ideologue with his nose so far up Marx’s ass he’s lost all objectivity.”

            If you think I’m a Marxist, you’ve got your head so far up your own arse that… well, I can’t say you’ve lost objectivity since you didn’t have any to lose.

            However, even without having a brief for Marx, I can see plain differences between Marx’s thought and Stalin’s for several reasons not the least of which is that I’ve bothered to read these two gents and comprehend what they said. Marx never proposed anything that even sounded like “socialism in one country”—indeed, Marx never addressed the practicalities of achieving the proletarian revolution. And in practice, Stalin’s “communism” is more appropriately described as “state capitalism” (as is the present system of China ever since Deng Xiaoping), where party functionaries filled the role of bosses.

            Your astonishing degree of willful ignorance of the differences in political philosophies that fall under the broad umbrella of “communist” is not sufficient reason for concluding there are no differences.

            “Yeah, I have no reason for thinking you “like” this stuff.”

            Unfortunately, it’s plain that you’re being sarcastic, which is a shame because otherwise it’s the first accurate thing you’ve said so far.

            “You’re like a Baptist claiming Mormonism isn’t derived from Christianity, because it’s not “orthodox” to quote you. Then whining that I can’t make that claim because I haven’t imbibed deeply of Baptist ideology.”

            Actually, I’m the person who is telling you that you know nothing about Marxism, critical race theory, or postmodernism. In short, if you want to make an analogy, I’m like Woody Allen standing in the lobby in Annie Hall, listening to you drone on about a series of subjects of which you are painfully ignorant, and wishing that I could pull out a critical race theory-version of Marshall McLuhan to say, “You know nothing of my work.”

            “I’ve read enough to determine it’s bullshit.”

            And how much is that exactly?

            “The end product pooped out by a bunch of Marxists is racist garbage of the worst kind. I’ve read the end product, and it’s circular reasoning at its worst. Of course, you never address this, because you want to push a bunch of straw man arguments on me.”

            I never address what you claim to have read? Yeah, little wonder, because you never cite anything except shit you’ve pulled off the web.

            “Jacques Derrida – Marxist”

            Wrong. This is why you completely lack credibility. A man who only specifically started writing about Marx in the 1990s, and only then to use him as an overarching metaphor for the spirit of critical discourse and resistance to neoliberal economics cannot possibly be considered to be even an unorthodox Marxist. In fact, in the Specters of Marx, he specifically points out cases where such things as employment can no longer be analyzed strictly within a Marxist/classical economic framework.

            “A bunch of the postmodernists were Marxists also.”

            Riiiiiight. And I will just trust you on this, despite the fact that I’ve explained the serious theoretical disputes between postmodernist theory and Marxism, because you’ve proven to be so reliable on the subject previously.

            “So yes White Privilege is Marxist derived bullshit, just as Intelligent Design is Christian derived bullshit.”

            Except that in the case of Intelligent Design, its roots in Christian evangelism is quite clear. You still have not shown how the concept of “white privilege” emerges from engagement with Marxist theory. ANY Marxist theory. Would that be too much like hard work?

            … and of course you never did defend the concept against my linked criticism.

            Because a) it was unnecessary, since I simply could show that you were talking about a subject that you don’t know anything about, and b) since you were talking about a subject you don’t know anything about, it’s impossible to construe your “criticism” as referring to anything anyone has ever said or thought about white privilege.

    2. It’s about his inherent status and privilege and the obligation one with privilege has to recognize said privilege and understand how different life can be (and almost always is) for those not having the same status or privilege. And it’s not that Dawkins is a bad person because he has the social privilege that comes with being who he is or where he was born, it’s about how that privilege is used or ignored to the detriment or benefit of others. And trust me when I saw the mysogony is mnore likely to be real that artifice.

      1. I’ve come to really doubt the usefulness of lumping together the privileged groups to which a person belongs. If you want to deal with patriarchy, you address all men. If you want to deal with racism, you deal with (at least!) all whites.

        I’ve also lost my hope that someone’s experience of one sort of powerlessness will make them understanding of another person’s experiences.

          1. I doubt you can reason your way out of a wet paper bag. Let’s see you defend against my criticism of white privilege “theory”. Just another self justifying religious concept. I argue with Libertarians, Marxists, classical skeptics (which you probably have no clue about), Anarchists, Feminists, Astrologists, Christians, Muslims, on any subject they are irrational about.

  23. before the comments become a battlefield, as they so often do in this kind of circumstance, I just want to say: respect, Rebecca. I know this is a horrible situation, made more horrible by unexpected and vicious attacks from quarters where you thought you would get support. I’m totally on your side (and in fact just signed up for an account to tell you I’m totally on your side). I just hope that the skeptical community can use this as a teachable moment and both heal itself and fix some of its problems.

  24. Bravo! It’s wonderful to see people asserting their humanity in the face of such cynicism, and responding with intelligence and grace rather than in kind. You guys are a credit to your community!

    Poor old Dawkins. I suppose he’s spent so long battling ignorance and blindness he’s become a little defensive of his own preconceptions. He is, after all, a 70 year old British man. That’s not to say he’s right (quite the opposite!) but there are only so many new tricks you can expect and old bulldog to learn.

    Anyway – I’m new to this community and just looking around and taking in the sights, but so far I’m just impressed by what’s going on! Great to see discussion like this going on, really love it.

    1. He is, after all, a 70 year old British man. and what you are some 17 year American pup? An old dog can’t learn new tricks? Us old dogs also have the advantage of at least knowing the old tricks. Did it ever occur to you that us old folks know all about the irrational mistakes you young-uns are making, and know how to avoid them.

      I think you better consider the idea that Dawkins is all too familiar with your kind of irrationality, and rejects it.

  25. This is probably the best time for this conversation to be happening, just a few days before TAM 9. There are going to be lots of people, lots of party, lots of opportunities for guys to make the choice to be decent human beings or predatory assholes. Hopefully thanks to this LONG discussion across the entire Internet maybe a few more will choose the former than would otherwise have done.

    Certainly, for those of us who are generally sensitive to these sorts of issues, this is a reminder of the huge scale of the problem lurking just below the surface of things. It is incredible and downright frightening to see just how many men sincerely believe that their “right” to demand an audience for their sexual proposition trumps pretty much any thoughts or desires their target might have on the subject.

  26. Hi Rebecca, thank you for speaking up. I have been thoroughly shocked by the massive ignorance that floated to the surface. I was completely unaware of this hostile attitude and the responses to your vlog have opened my eyes. I did not know people could be this ignorant and it hurts to say, but apparently one of my all-time heroes is not what I thought he was. In the past I have been irritated by his pompous tone of voice, but I always felt that RD’s intelligence, eloquence and proper common sense made up for his slghtly belittling tone. Shocking to read his words and his backpaddling when called out. Dr. Dawkins lost my respect. You are right: he is the past. Let’s focus on the future.

    1. Rationalists tend to be hostile to irrationality. One should expect that at a skeptics conference.

  27. I stopped going to atheist events because of the discomforts that you describe. There were just so many more fun things to do on a Saturday night than endure “accidental” breast touching and being followed back to my car.

    But Kudos to you for fighting the good fight. It reminds me of my brother joining the Knights of Columbus because he felt that someone sane person on the board should suggest that they go back to fundraising for children’s hospitals instead of fighting against civil rights when it comes to equal marriage rights. Both seem really frustrating and futile to me, but just because I don’t have the stomach for it, doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the efforts.

    I like reading atheist stuff online though (and don’t have to worry about being cornered when I’m doing it), and would love to hear if things change at some point in my lifetime.

  28. Oh jeez, and already there are guys here going “I’m a good one! Don’t paint all of us like that!” You guys just don’t get it.

    Rebecca, I’m with you all the way. Keep at it, and thanks for all of your work.

    1. “Oh jeez, and already there are guys here going “I’m a good one! Don’t paint all of us like that!” You guys just don’t get it.”

      That’s either an infuriating comment or a good joke. I can’t decide.

    2. mero, can you clarify what you are saying here? It sounds like you are dissing these men for getting it.

      I for one relish comments from men who are supportive of the arguments that Rebecca and others are making. Of course, my favorite comments of all are from the men who say “holy crap I had no idea, thanks for letting us understand you better.” It’s comments like these that give me hope.

      1. I’m saying that it bothers me when men are tripping over themselves to explain how awesome of an ally they are, instead of calling out OTHER men (specifically Dawkins) for being DBags.

        And literally saying “I hope you know not all old white men are this bad!” is just a man’s way of relieving his guilt by getting the victim to acknowledge that yes, ok, fine, you are a good one.

        OF COURSE not all men are rapists. Stop looking for ally cookies, men. Get your ally cookies by being a good person, and that’s it.

      2. And yes, I do enjoy seeing comments where men get it. I feel like that has to be the bar to clear, though. Adding in how not all men are like that or how one would never *personally* act like that are annoying.

  29. “The truth shall make you free, but first it shall make you angry.”

    Thanks! Keep fighting the good fight as long as you can. We need more secularists who apply skepticism universally and speak out against all the wrongs in our world. You’re not alone in feminism or anger here.

    *hugs* if ya want ’em!

  30. Rebecca,

    Keep on with your work. You’re doing a great job, and I would be upset if this knocked you down.

    I’ve been one those clueless guys. It took me a long while before I ‘got it.’ You are one of the many influences to help me see it from a woman’s point of view. It’s quite difficult as a tall, relatively strong white man living in America for me to see that I can sometimes intimidate other people. I’m physically stronger and larger than most women. I’m born with more privilege than people of another race. All of this, even though I don’t consciously try to intimidate.

    I sincerely hope Mr. Dawkins is able to sit back and rethink his position. He should know as well as anyone that it’s a virtue to be able to re-examine the arguments, and when he sees that he is wrong, he should admit it. And then he should apologize. He would re-aquire my respect if he did that.

  31. Oh cmon! Please. Comments like yours and outrage by the atheist community has made me hesitant to join the community. I’m sure you have experienced your problems and seen many acts of sexism towards you, but a dumb guy in an elevator, and you just blew the whole thing out of proportion. Dawkins was wrong in saying that the situation warranted no reaction, but you were wrong in reacting in such a strong way

    1. … So saying “Please don’t proposition me for sex at 4 am, after you purposefully waited until I left my friends and knew I was inebriated, it’s creepy. I’m not saying you’re a rapist, it’s just that this sets off alarm bells.” is overreacting?

      1. He propositioned her for sex now? he ‘knew’ she was inebriated? That’s a lotta psychic ability coming from a page of skeptics. Maybe he’s a socially awkward dork who stepped all over himself trying to talk to someone. I’ve known a couple in my day.

    2. She made one 30s comment explaining the situation. She didn’t name the man, or shame the man, she simply pointed out that people shouldn’t behave like that.

      The overreaction came from people who couldn’t stand that a woman asked men not to make them feel uncomfortable and flooded blogs with privileged claptrap.

      1. Actually she was criticized by a woman Stef first, then inappropriately responded at a conference. Pretty low. She’s also getting criticized for coming to some fairly illogical conclusions.

    3. “Reacting in such a strong way”? How was her reaction so strong? What about her reaction was so off-putting? I can’t even believe people are reacting to it the way that they did. It seemed like such a harmless comment to me.

  32. Although I didn’t make the connection until recently either, you’re absolutely right when you say that feminist and skepticism issues overlap. You’ve been doing a great job of raising people’s awareness about it and I hope you find the courage to carry on. You definitely have this white male support’s and renewed enthusiasm about the issue.

  33. I think what bothered me so much about this whole mess was that this wasn’t just a case of Dawkins having a one-time brain fart (which everybody experiences from time to time, either through ignorance or simily a lack of coffee.) It was that, when called on it, he kept digging.

    That’s not exactly the most rational response to the situation he found himself in, and I’m beyond disappointed.

    On the other hand, I’d somehow managed to forget about the awesomeness of the posts on Skepchick, so I guess (for me at least, selfish person that I am) it’s not all bad?

  34. I was very disappointed to see what are quite frankly childish antics on the part of Prof. Dawkins. I’m also quite taken aback given his supportive sentiments when he was on the panel with you.

    Isn’t it revealing when you see how someone’s treatment of you changes so drastically when they don’t have to look you in the eye.

    Such a shame he didn’t have the nerve to voice these sentiments about modern feminism in the sceptic movement when he was sitting beside you but instead waited until he was safe behind his keyboard.

  35. What you have to put up with routinely sounds really aweful!! and you have my support too. Given time to reflect I hope Richard will undertstand and aplogise espevially for using outrageous injustice to main what he saw as a minor point. He’s 70 but he’s quite good at learning so I’ve heard :) So I hope he does and apologises. I’d think more of him if he did.

  36. Dawkins spends a lot of time in his books talking about the value of “consciousness raising.” This would be a perfect opportunity for him to demonstrate his capacity for being raised. I am shocked he would use an argument tantamount to, “hey don’t fix your broken arm because someone else had their arm ripped off.” Such an argument begs the question, “How is talking about evolution important when people are being gunned down in Somalia?”

    Christian (like the religion only ironic)

  37. Thanks, Rebecca.

    Now I wish I’d purchased one of the “Team Rebecca” pins at Skepticon last year. When it was just for drinking, it didn’t matter.

    This matters.

  38. Way to freaking go, Rebecca. I’m with you in the “accidental feminist” camp. I didn’t used to see the need for feminism, not really. I come from a conservative family (not really conservative anymore, but the foundation was there). I was the only “chick” at my workplace. It was kind of flattering, I thought. Then I realized that they didn’t care about anything I said or thought. And that they trivialized discrimination and joked about rape. And that my own husband trivialized any feminist issue not involving bodily harm. It’s all to do with their privilege, and being raised against a backdrop that assumes and holds up that privilege.

    Then I had a son, and I became an active feminist. (And also a humanist, a skeptic, an activist, and a number of other things.) He doesn’t assume anything. It’s really kind of a beautiful thing.

    If people like Dawkins can’t see the light (and I’m still holding out hope that he can), I have hope that, with folks like you, the next generation will have a whole lot fewer hypocrites and a whole lot more compassionate, clear thinking men and women. Keep it up.

  39. One of the things that seems to be conveniently forgotten by people making comments along the Dawkins line is that if something horrible had happened in the elevator, there would be plenty of people saying “While I can’t condone what happened, Rebecca should have known better…” and then some variation of being in a hotel at 4am or in a lift alone with a stranger or going around in public being obviously female etc.
    But one bright spot…next time someone says the atheist movement is mindlessly monolithic and all just Dawkins worshippers, we can prove we’re not.

  40. Another thing.. All this was started after a night at the bar right? I think alcohol is not being flagged up as a causal agent here. There’s all this focus on male mentality when I think we’re missing one vital ingredient. I’m a guy and can be a creep when (well, extremely) drunk. However when sober I’m meek and retiring. For some guys it only takes a couple of drinks and they start getting lecherous. Maybe you should have teetotaller conferences if there’s an air of threatening male intent at them. I’m serious.

    1. Interesting, I don’t creep the fuck out of other people when I drink. Nor do the people I drink with. We get a little louder, maybe sing, but no cornering people in elevators and propositioning them after not saying a word to them all night.

      But go ahead, blame alcohol, it works great for Mel Gibson.

      1. You’re right in that I shouldn’t BLAME alcohol. If someone knows they’ll turn into a creep when they drink, they shouldn’t drink. But completely eliminating it as a factor seems wrong.

    2. “For some guys it only takes a couple of drinks and they start getting lecherous.”

      … and some girls a couple before they get horny.

      Real quote from a girl who kept egging me on to go out drinking with her, despite me telling her I didn’t like to drink. “Doesn’t drinking get you horny?”

  41. Can I ask something seriously? As a guy who never hits on anyone cause I’m afraid of upsetting someone, is the default position of women now “Men are sexual predators until proven otherwise”? It just seems like it went from an inocuous “please guys don’t be creepy” to complete male bashing and calling us predators by default.
    This is not gonna help anything if we just assume everyone is a bad person by default.

    Please don’t mistake me for sticking up for what Dawkins said, or dude asking you back to his room, because both are whack, but the comments of others kinda make me not want to be around either side of this fight. Safer to stay home and play video games.

    1. Dude, start with this: http://kateharding.net/2009/10/08/guest-blogger-starling-schrodinger’s-rapist-or-a-guy’s-guide-to-approaching-strange-women-without-being-maced/

      The thing is, there is no way to tell if you’re a sweet dude who would be a perfect partner or a rapist at first meeting. Rape is incredibly widespread. Not to mention, all of the onus on rape prevention is put on women, so yeah, there’s going to be a desire to keep oneself safe. Your ego<my safety.

      Seriously, if you don't like the situation (women don't much either), then work to stop the rape culture in the first place. Respect boundaries. Consider the comfort level of the women in question. In the situation of Elevator Guy, you just got a free lesson in part of that "giving a shot about women's comfort" thing.

      1. Becca, that’s a great article, but the link wouldn’t work for me. I’ve found it here:

        The post is a funny but straightforward guide to things men may not be aware of that should be considered before striking up a conversation with women who don’t know them. The comments include the usual arguments as well as some permutations of the initial premise. Definitely worth the read.

        1. Hmmm, tried again and both links worked.

          On the theme if sexism and allies is a cooperative post, this one listing only instances where men stepped up and said or did the right thing, even when the ending wasn’t happy.
          (Yes, the title sounds belittling, but it is high praise for good deeds as well as an example for those who aren’t sure how to step in to shift the balance in a potentially rough situation.)

      2. … and there’s now way for him to tell if you are a psycho feminist or hooker who’s going to make false rape charges, or give him AIDS.

    2. TK, speaking as a (now married) shy and socially awkward male, I think all that is being said here is, simply “don’t be creepy”. I don’t think anyone is saying that all men are predators or should be treated as such. Rather, the message I’m seeing, and the message I’d agree with, is that sometimes guys can present a more threatening attitude than they are aware that they do. Following someone into an elevator is a bit weird. Following someone out of the bar when they say they’re going to bed is a bit weird. Part of it’s just a matter of putting yourself in the other person’s position, and that can be more than just imagining what you would do if a woman approached you like that.

    3. I’m really sad that some people take this away from the discussion.

      To my mind, the fact that Rebecca was willing to tell the elevator story was a sign of respect for men generally. The assumption is that most men are good guys who desire sincerely not to make women feel uncomfortable or intimidated. If Rebecca sincerely felt like “all men are rapists,” why would she bother giving men tips on how not to creep out women?

  42. I just wanted to say how inspiring and amazing you are, Rebecca. (I feel honoured to share a first name with someone so kickass.)

    I doubt I’ll go to any atheist meetings in the near future because of the creep situation, which fucking sucks. Though I’d make an exception if you came to Toronto.

  43. I’m sorry there are so many clueless men* out there. I don’t really see how anyone can read the Schrödinger’s Rapist post and not understand.

    * No doubt there are some clueless women out there too. But for obvious reasons their cluelessness doesn’t have anywhere near as much impact on men as vice-versa.

  44. mero – Oh jeez, and already there are guys here going “I’m a good one! Don’t paint all of us like that!” You guys just don’t get it.

    That’s either the most infuriating comment or a good joke.

  45. Critical thought is limited mainly by the questions we ask of ourselves and others. If Richard Dawkins is incapable of questioning the misogyny so abundant in our communities, then we need the light of different perspectives in order to address the problem. Thank you for your work and words, and may the questioning continue.

  46. Intruding from this thread.


    I appreciate the fact that you understand that racism can exist in all communities, but I afford people the benefit of the doubt without characterizing their actions as racist when there’s ambiguity.

    The problem is that we end up having racist outcomes in modern systems, without necessarily having racist intentions involved. So it’s useful to distinguish intentional and unintentional racism.

    Especially when coupled with examples of how racist outcomes can be reproduced without deliberate intent, I find that many people can handle an understanding that racism is “the patterns of racial privilege and oppression and anything, intentional or not, that helps to create or perpetuate those patterns” (taken from Allan Johnson).

    This is necessary because it’s possible to have racist outcomes even from actions which are racially sensitive (cf genuinely racially sensitive police officers working in the drug war). So if it racial insensitivity is the metric we use, we can still end up with a racist system.

    My problem was with the characterization of this as universally sexist in the eyes of all women, or asserting that’s what they should believe.

    They should believe what’s accurate. We have objectively-evaluble descriptions of what constitutes sexism: the patterns of sex- and gender-related privilege and oppression and anything, intentional or not, that helps to create or perpetuate those patterns.

    This fits that description. They should argue based on outcomes.

    but are you now telling me how I should feel and think about a joke?

    You should think that a racist joke is racist, because that’s an objective matter. You can feel however you feel about it; that’s not my business. And you can respond how you find it useful to respond.

    I have the prerogative to be a flaming mad angry black panther

    The Black Panthers were not merely acting from anger; they had a rational analysis of systemic racism, and a plausible response.

  47. Hi there!

    Oooh, thank you for bringing this up again!

    I used to be on exactly the WRONG side of this argument. Let me explain why.

    I’d considered myself a “feminist”, because I’ve always supported the idea that women should have exactly the same rights as men. I’m a pretty femmy guy myself, for a heterosexual dude, and I’m very comfortable with that. So I’ve always been about Yay Women’s Rights! Woo!

    But I’ve always felt like I keep running up against the wrong side of the argument when I get into a discussion about “harassment”. In my opinion, “harassment” has always been clear-cut and well-defined. Harassment is what happens when a guy lays his hands on you and tries to get into your pants by threatening you with demotion or termination at your job. I believed that harassment was what happened on Mad Men. Really sleazy boardroom groping kind of stuff.

    Then as we eased into the 21st century, people started getting more “sensitive” to workplace (and other-place) harassment. Now harassment wasn’t just grabbing a woman’s backside in the copy room, it was telling dirty jokes where other people could hear. It was telling a co-worker that her sweater looks nice. I’d always object to this “new” definition of harassment, because some of my dirtiest, most shamelessly suggestive co-workers have always been women.

    The response was that I don’t know what the Hell I was talking about, because I’m: 1) Male, 2) Laboring under a veil of Privilege, and 3) Probably a latent rapist. This always struck me as offensive. As I said, I’ve always been a proponent of equality between the sexes, and for me to be viewed as a Schrodinger’s Rapist until proven innocent just seemed to be going a little too far.

    Some women that I knew told me to just be quiet and go off in a corner somewhere and read some feminist literature until I wasn’t so damn ignorant. So I resolved NEVER to get into a feminist discussion with anyone, ever ever ever again.


    Eventually, quite by accident, I discovered that I WAS ignorant. Not because of my MALE privilege, ohhh no.

    I had … um … “nice guy privilege”??

    Whenever I’ve been hanging out with my female friends, we cuss, and make sexual innuendos, and flirt, and touch each other all the time. This is because I’m a “nice guy”. I am quiet, and inoffensive, and gentle, and nerdy. I can get away with things that would ordinarily be considered “sexist” and “harassment”, because I just don’t skew as “creepy”.

    But recently, I’ve actually had the opportunity to hang around some “REAL MEN”. The kind of guys who have locker room about the women they’d like to bang, and how big their mighty Johnsons are. I knew that this kind of male existed, and I’d always thought that it was just harmless male braggadocio. But these guys were different. They were having a -scary- conversation about women. It was about sex and the hot babes, but the whole tenor of the conversation was much more … aggressive? It wasn’t a conversation about: “That woman is physically appealing to me and I would love it if she would agree to a sexual liaison with me in the future”, but more: “If I thought I could get away with it, I’d hit her over the head with a rock and drag her into an alley”. And it’s not like these were all a bunch of drunken frat boys or anything. To look at them, you’d have though that they were any other group of guys, probably with families and kids of their own.

    Okay, so no one SAID that, outright, but I just got the feeling that I’d walked into a much different dynamic than I was used to. I felt downright uncomfortable. I didn’t know that guys like that still existed. When I joke about sex with my nerdy friends, It’s always in good fun. But this was just so much more … “rapey” than I was used to.

    Since then, I’ve been more aware of this kind of male. The creepy neanderthal type. I think there are more of those guys than I ever realized.

    No, I’m not trying to say that I am some kind of paragon of male respectfulness and politeness. But that I don’t know if there’s a “male privilege” so much as just a general cluelessness. If one of THOSE guys had ME alone on an elevator, I would have been scared, too. :( It’s not like I was being creepy and offensive to women all these years and just didn’t know it. It’s that the creepy harassment guys are much more prevalent than I’d previously thought. I thought that those kind of guys were pretty rare. But apparently they’re everywhere. I never would have believed Rebecca’s “you should be raped” e-mail if I hadn’t recently met exactly that type of guy. (and if she hadn’t copy-pasted it, of course)

    So I apologize for any male/nice-guy/cluelessidiot privilege that I might have had, but I GET IT now. Those guys are just CREEPY.

    Even if they’re a respected evolutionary biologist. :(

    [apologies on the long-winded post]

    — Craig

    1. I don’t mean this as a criticism, but some of the most uncomfortable moments I’ve had with guys HAVE been with the shy nerdy types. Starts off harmless enough, and you write them off because they’re not “jocks”, but then it keeps happening, and suddenly I’m feeling vulnerable because the scrawny asian co-worker has just said he’d like to see what I look like in a bathing suit. At least with a moronic jock, you can shoot them down straight away, or avoid them. With the shy nerdy type, you just don’t EXPECT it. So yeah, I really wouldn’t be surprised if some of your female friends are feeling uncomfortable at some of your jokes.

    2. Schrodinger’s Rapist (at least the concept if not the actual posting) sets off certain alarm bells for me. I think I remember my mom telling me her brothers were warned not to inadvertently scare white women, lest they end up in a bad way.

      1. While I can understand how you read the explanation this way, there is a very key difference in what we’re trying to accomplish with this explanation: the dangers of a privileged class using its power in a way that threatens those with a real risk of harm and oppression.

        Basically you have it backwards.

        The point of Schrodinger’s Rapist is that (leaving out complicating factors of race, which I’ll talk about in a minute) men do not consider that a woman knows her risk for abuse, rape and other violent harm is disproportionately high, and someone intent on harming her is not going to identify themselves as such. Women are the less powerful group with a large potential risk of harm.

        While I don’t know your mother or the age of your brothers (and period they grew up in), historically, the risk is not that the white woman in your scenario has great risk of harm but instead the young African American man has real dangers that he faces. Given that the historical consequence for even being perceived as a risk to that privileged woman is beating and death, the warning your mother gave is in large part to keep your brothers safe. As a result of these unfair and socially unfortunate norms, your brothers were conveyed a sense that they had to take greater precautions than other more privileged individuals did. (These precautions also have the side effect of putting the blame for any bad outcomes on the oppressed as well because they weren’t careful enough.) Women are told that they have to take greater precautions as well to avoid rape; even though these “tips” are not helpful statistically in avoiding rape and massively unfair, they do create the sense of fear and anxiety that Schrodinger’s Rapist attempts to address and explain.

        Essentially in this scenario, your brothers are the woman in the elevator, not the man.

    3. I think this sums up the male experience very well. I have men I can make crude jokes with, or act flirty around and not feel threatened, but there are others I wouldn’t even say “sex” around for fear of their creepiness. It’s really a more individual experience. Not all men give me the “potential rapist” vibe, but I have met a few that do. I can’t pin them down to any specific type, it’s not like they all wear the same kind of hat or something (wouldn’t that be nice?), it’s a personality thing and it has to be judged individually. Just last week a guy approached me outside a mall, and something about the way he looked at me (despite that he didn’t say anything aside from “excuse me”) gave me a he’s-going-to-put-me-in-a-woodchipper vibe. I can’t say why, it just did. I normally deal very well with street people, but this guy gave me the heebie-jeebies something fierce. If you’ve never met someone like that, how can you know how it feels?
      Thanks for sharing your experience, Draconius.

    4. Wow, thanks for posting this Draconius. It’s a very interesting insight into “nice guy privilege” as you called it. Most of my male friends are the nice, gentle, nerdy type and even though no one can speak for an entire group it is interesting to me to try to understand this issue from a different angle. Thanks for your post :)

    5. Oh my god yes!! I, as a woman, also used to feel that way about sexual harassment, but that was before I read my own feminist literature and a true realization dawned on me.

      Sometimes it’s just impossible to see your own privilege until someone or something smacks you hard in the face with it.

      I always need to remind myself that even though I’m a fat, queer woman, I still need to check my white middle-class privilege.

      As a side note, to those commentors on here who are failing to check their own privilege, as soon as you add ‘but’ to a statement, you have become an apologist and have invalidated everything you previously said.

  48. keep up the “consciousness-raising” Rebecca.

    In your previous article (On naming names… June 28th, 2011), you wrote […] for the men (and women) who are behaving in sexist and destructive ways, I hope that pointing it out to them has the effect of making them consider their actions and stop being sexist and damaging.[…]

    this debate helped me to get the point. I empathize with the “schrodinger’s rapist” feeling faced by women.

    might we declare Richard Dawkins senile officially? I hope not. let’s apply Hanlon’s razor and forgive him.

  49. Thank you for not giving up on feminism Rebecca. As I father of one young and one (not so) young daughter hearing your thoughts on how women are treated has been an invaluable education for me.

  50. (Moderate away my last comment, if it’s not too much trouble, please. I didn’t know this blog doesn’t use the blockquote tag.)

    Intruding from this thread.


    “[marc:] I appreciate the fact that you understand that racism can exist in all communities, but I afford people the benefit of the doubt without characterizing their actions as racist when there’s ambiguity.”

    The problem is that we end up having racist outcomes in modern systems, without necessarily having racist intentions involved. So it’s useful to distinguish intentional and unintentional racism.

    Especially when coupled with examples of how racist outcomes can be reproduced without deliberate intent, I find that many people can handle an understanding that racism is “the patterns of racial privilege and oppression and anything, intentional or not, that helps to create or perpetuate those patterns” (taken from Allan Johnson).

    This is necessary because it’s possible to have racist outcomes even from actions which are racially sensitive (cf genuinely racially sensitive police officers working in the drug war). So if it racial insensitivity is the metric we use, we can still end up with a racist system.

    “[marc:] My problem was with the characterization of this as universally sexist in the eyes of all women, or asserting that’s what they should believe.”

    They should believe what’s accurate. We have objectively-evaluble descriptions of what constitutes sexism: the patterns of sex- and gender-related privilege and oppression and anything, intentional or not, that helps to create or perpetuate those patterns.

    This fits that description. They should argue based on outcomes.

    “[marc:] but are you now telling me how I should feel and think about a joke?”

    You should think that a racist joke is racist, because that’s an objective matter. You can feel however you feel about it; that’s not my business. And you can respond how you find it useful to respond.

    “[marc:] I have the prerogative to be a flaming mad angry black panther”

    The Black Panthers were not merely acting from anger; they had a rational analysis of systemic racism, and a plausible response.

  51. Rebecca, You have now replaced Richard Dawkins on my facebook list of people who have inspired me. I would still like to think that Dawkins is just clueless, having never been in a position where he felt vulnerable. But I can’t imagine why he would have so much difficulty comprehending that women draw from different life experiences. Nothing about your video was whiny. In fact, I thought it was a rather nice gesture to let awkward guys know how their actions could be construed as creepy or even threatening in certain situations. Dawkins’ reaction was douchey at best and at the very worst made some people wonder if he wasn’t ‘Elevator Guy.’

  52. I find this rather strange. Maybe I misunderstood the story, but here is what I understood so far: In a hotel elevator, some guy was trying to hit on you in a really creepy way. I found no indication that he was actually threatening you, trying to force you to do something that you do not want to do, or doing anything illegal. Honestly, please correct me if I’m wrong. He was just extremely badly mannered in his awkward attempt to get you into his room.

    And now this is compared to pulling out a gun in the elevator – something that would be illegal in most parts in the western world, and so for a good reason. It seems to me that many people here think that everyone who does not agree with this comparison is a rape apologist.

    Again, please correct me if I’m wrong. Please tell me what part of the story I did not get, because I would like to know. To the extent that I understood it, I can simply not understand how what this guy was doing in the elevator suddenly becomes almost equated with rape.

    Now comes the larger scope. Many women feel generally harassed because many guys try to hit on them in even more creepy ways, all of the time. That’s okay, I get it. That sucks, and those guys are idiots. They are not rapists, they are idiots. No question.

    Dawkins made a more than foolish comment. I wonder what went through his head. It was just awful. And what really astonishes me about Dawkins’ comment is that he did not immediately realize his logical fallacy. Independently from what you think about the issue, I cannot understand how an extremely intelligent person like Dawkins did not see the missing logic of his reasoning. Someone with as much public attention as he gets should think twice about everything he writes, even if it’s just a comment in a blog.

    And, yes, maybe Dawkins’ comment revealed a bad side of his character. Maybe he does not realize what women go through when they are objectified. But is there good reason to believe that he is a rape apologist? – Are you kidding? (And with “you”, I don’t just mean Rebecca, I mean the whole community, and everyone here who puts forward arguments along this line.)

    So Dawkins might be an asshole when it comes to women. I’m not sure about that, but I’ll grant the possibility. I have not read anything from him that deals with feminism; I value highly what he wrote and discussed regarding religion and atheism. I really like his thoughts and contributions in this field. But I could not care less about what he thinks about feminism. I would not regard his writings about atheism worse even if I knew that he were a misogynist. Why should I? Those are unrelated topics.

    Now, sure, this is Rebecca’s blog, and she can recommend or not recommend who and what she wants. But I consider her reaction an overreaction. This sounds like war. Those commenters here who draw a direct comparison to rape and threat victims do a great disservice to those who really had to go through these sufferings. I can understand how one can be disappointed by what Dawkins wrote, but why reject his whole works? Even those that don’t have anything to do with feminism? – Really, I don’t get it. Dawkins is a human, and like every human, he does mistakes, he has some foolish attitudes and he is not perfect. As long as he is not hurting anybody, grant this man some imperfection. Tell him that you feel honestly disgusted by what he wrote. He has a chance to reconsider his position when you confront him with good arguments.

    I cannot deny that I have the impression that some people who make a rape apologist out of Dawkins and curse upon him show the overreaction of a young person who just found out that his idolized father figure is not as perfect as she wanted him to be. Dawkins is not a role model, don’t idolize him. He is just an author, and his voice, though rather prominent, is just one voice of many.

      1. You did not do this comparison. I mixed up my thoughts that are directed to you with my thoughts directed towards the community in general. “zylla” made the comparison above:

        “Let’s put another spin on the scenario to see if some of these guys can get it. You’re on an elevator with a guy. He pulls out a gun as he’s talking to you. He doesn’t point it at you, doesn’t threaten you, he’s just holding the gun. Does it really make you feel any safer around this stranger when someone tells you later that it probably wasn’t loaded? Within the context of this situation (woman alone on an elevator at 4AM with a stranger who asks her to come back to his room for *any* reason), the woman has no idea what his reaction will be to being rebuffed, however kindly she declines, however well he seems to take it.”

        I find this comparison wrong on many levels, but many arguments presented by other commenters here are wrong in the same way; they do less drastic but equally wrong comparisons.

        It’s sad how this issue is going the wrong way. It seems that the majority here cannot differentiate between an idiot and a rapist. I don’t see how a constructive result can come out of this when everyone overreacts in this way.

        1. I didn’t mean to confuse anyone there; I made the gun analogy to show guys how an uncertain situation, potentially dangerous to guys, can be unnerving without anything bad actually happening. It’s a strained comparison, I know. (A knife might have been better in the illustration, but for most guys outside of prison, rape is not a cognitive threat.) I did not mean to imply that there was one in Rebecca’s situation. Sorry, I was trying to write fast.

          1. And as said in my (admittedly poor) example, the theoretical person with a weapon doesn’t do anything or even threaten (which was the point as Rebecca was not actually attacked), it was just meant as a frightening situation.

          2. Thanks for responding, zylla. As I wrote, maybe I did not get the full story. Maybe there is a part that I missed. If so, please tell me.

            Whenever two people are alone, isolated like late at night in an elevator, and one of those persons expresses a sexual or romantic interest in the other, like asking him into his or her room, then this is like being alone with someone who has a potentially dangerous weapon? When one man asks another man for a date, then this implies the danger of rape? Is that what you want to imply?

            If that were the case, I wonder what rule of behavior would avoid it. I think of something like: “When you are alone with a stranger, don’t ever try to hit on that person. Because you might involuntarily induce fear of rape in that person.” – But for me, this does not make sense. People should be free to express their interest in other people, and also, people should be free to turn down any invitations like that. Without the fear of rape playing any part in it.

            Also, where is the line to be drawn? When asking someone out on a date in an isolated situation counts as a rape fear inducing action, what about looking at someone in an ambiguous way? How long is one allowed to look at somebody without inducing fear? What if you actually want to know the time? Are you allowed to ask for the time, or can this be confused with trying to hit on the other person?

            For me, public display of a potentially lethal weapon falls in a totally different category than asking someone into one’s room. I fail to see how the comparison can be made _at all_. I actually feel sad knowing that there are people out there who might feel afraid when they are alone with somebody and basically asked for a date. It shouldn’t be that way. Everyone should be able to smile and say, “Sorry, no chance” – without being afraid to be forced. Maybe I’m living in a different world. Maybe I am oblivious to this danger.

            And yes, I think that guy in the elevator was an idiot. I don’t like what he has done. But with all of these over-exaggerations coming around in this thread, I almost – almost! – feel like I’m defending him. I don’t want to do that; I just want to say: He is an idiot, but not a rapist. And the potential sexual or romantic desire of a person should never by default be seen as a lethal weapon. Never.

          3. It’s not that the question implied (or even was inferred) to suggest rape. And the guy made no further move, so no violence of any sort was presented. It’s the situation. 4AM in an enclosed place with a complete stranger who says/does/acts something very uncomfortable. He’s a STRANGER You have absolutely no idea if this is a prelude to something else. But beyond that, it’s simply rude to (euphemistically) say “let’s have sex” to a complete STRANGER. Maybe if you’re at a singles bar, but an elevator at a hotel for a convention at 4AM simply isn’t an appropriate place to proposition someone you don’t know.

          4. Thanks for your thoughts. I will think about this; not sure what to make of it yet.

          5. That makes you a good skeptic. :) Have you watched the videos (of her talk at the conference and her bloggy update)? Funny and informative in their own rights, but also lay the groundwork for the 3 comments posted by Dawkins under PZ Myers’ post.

        2. I think this post on “Schrodinger’s Rapist” might help you understand where zylla was coming from: http://kateharding.net/2009/10/08/guest-blogger-starling-schrodinger%E2%80%99s-rapist-or-a-guy%E2%80%99s-guide-to-approaching-strange-women-without-being-maced/

          I think a better analogy might be the difference between a homeless person asking you for money in the street with lots of people around vs in a dark alley with no one around. The latter situation is scarier because it includes a stronger possibility of violence. “Schrodinger’s mugger,” if you will.

          1. Thanks for the link. Maybe this will help me understand the argument better.

        3. I think that while much of the conversation is a derailment of the original off-handed comment, there is a valid point to be made that talking to someone for only a few moments and being confined in an elevator with them, gives you few tools for determining who is a rapist and who is an idiot (to use your line of delineation). As someone who has, unfortunately, had to take out a restraining order on a man I was trying to break up with who thought it would be better if he attempted to force himself on me, and as someone who was once confined in a cab with a cab driver who wouldn’t take me to my destination until I kissed him, I can tell you that things can go downhill pretty fast when you do not have the physical ability to muscle yourself out of a bad situation. People who seem nice enough at first blush, sometimes end up overstepping in a big way.

          My cases are neither the worst nor terribly uncommon, which is why I think it’s appropriate for women to feel cautious about a man who doesn’t seem to respect standard social boundaries.

          Any individual who values equality would not want to put a person in a situation where he or she felt their safety was compromised because of something they did or said and I would think that anyone who sees a little of himself in elevator guy would not want to defend him but instead use that as a jumping off point towards avoiding creeping other people out in the future. You can have an honest misunderstanding, see another perspective and then change that behavior because you have empathy and compassion.

    1. Your post contains a number of straw-men, perhaps you should look at that.

      1. Rebecca, Jen McCreight and P.Z. Myers said nothing about equating poorly judged privileged behavior of elevator guy with rape. Others did that, when discussing context of sex based power inequities.
      2. I didn’t see where Rebecca or P.Z. or Jen McCreight said that Dawkins was a rape apologist. (Maybe you can point it out to us.) I saw that they said he was a privilege denying idiot who wanted to silence the uppity feminist.

      Also of note: you claim that Rebecca’s response to Elevator Guy was disproportionate. How? She handled the inappropriate encounter with grace, and very simply used it as an opportunity to educate. That’s laudable. Or has she overreacted to being told to shut up about sexism by someone who should know better?

      As for equality being unrelated to atheism and humanism, what is wrong with people who have this attitude? What is the skeptic movement for, if not to get people to abandon untrue and damaging ideas and ideologies? How is getting people to abandon sexist and discriminatory attitudes any different than getting them to abandon other damaging mythical ideas?

      1. I did not want to imply that Rebecca or any of the other prominent skeptical writers equated this guy’s action with rape. I used the passive form intentionally. (“now this is compared to…”) I can see that this was ambiguous – sorry about that.

        After that, my comment became more directed to the commenters here, and I did not point this out explicitly. Again, sorry for that. I assure you that I never thought that Rebecca, Myers or any of the others you mentioned equated the creepy guy or Dawkins with a rapist.

        I did not say that Rebecca’s reaction to the elevator guy was disproportionate. What I did say was that I find her reaction in the above blog post to be an overreaction. Probably this is because I always saw Dawkins as an atheist writer and scientist, and his opinions on other subjects never really interested me. I never built up a relevant emotional relation to him, and I never came close to seeing him as a role model. Therefore, I have no trouble finding his comment moronic and at the same time hold his books on atheism and evolution in high esteem.

        I agree with you in that Rebecca was right in turning a creepy situation into an educational example. I’m just afraid about the reactions that I see in the comments; judging by that alone, it seems the education went a little overboard.

        You were asking what the skeptic movement might be for. I don’t think that the skeptic movement has an inherent purpose; it’s just an emergent phenomenon. When the skeptics now bring awareness to feminism and equality, that’s absolutely great.

        But now, if as a consequence of this discussion people start to equate hitting on somebody with drawing a gun, if people start to observe the sexual desire of a man as rape potential – do you think this will do any good to the causes of feminism or equality?

        1. The reason that people have used violent examples of physical threat is we’re desperately trying to explain to a snow dog like a Husky what cold feels like. (To explain the reference https://sindeloke.wordpress.com/2010/01/13/37/ )

          It is almost impossible for a woman to explain what the power inequity involved and potential danger we’ve absolutely steeped in and at risk for to someone who will never walk in our shoes. The daily life of trying to cope with damaging and devaluing attitudes while avoiding disproportionate dangers we face (and which we have a huge potential of being blamed for if they happen!) is so pervasive and subtle that it can be invisible to those outside. If you haven’t checked out the recent post here “Tell Me How I Should Feel” from 28 June, or the simple piece John Scalzi wrote last year about privilege, I highly recommend it.

          You are mistaken about what we mean when we explain that some behaviors are predatory and privileged. We don’t want to characterize the sexuality of straight men as predatory (indeed, I’m sure a lot of us would be very sad without healthy sexual expression and partnership), but neither are men entitled to our attention or our time because they see us as attractive. The problem is that fear and societal pressures have created a system where women are seen as gatekeepers for something men want (sex) instead of joyful happy sexual partners who want to give and share of ourselves with someone who is doing the same. We want to break down the damaging idea that we are not sexual beings as men are, but sexualized ones.

          1. I do want to thank you for that response; you gave me a lot to think about. At the same time, I am slightly horrified by the impact of this specific sex-related inequality situation on women’s everyday lives, in a modern western country.

            It seems to me that the women I know are not at all afraid of rape, and even only very seldomly in a potential, hypothetical way. And I have the impression that I know women from a wide range of milieus. Either it’s because we never really talked about this, or… hmm. Do you think it can be a cultural thing? I live in Germany. Is the situation in the US so different?

            Anyway, I will keep this in mind, and, when there is a chance to talk about this in a decent way, try to talk about this with my female friends.

          2. slignot:
            “…disproportionate dangers we face (and which we have a huge potential of being blamed for if they happen!)….”


            It’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Being conscious of the danger inherent in the kind of interaction Rebecca describes is “overreacting”, but if a woman happens to be raped, the focus shifts to her and what she ‘did wrong’. The incoherent illogic of it only makes sense if one views it as an attempt to deny the reality of rape culture and to deny the validity of women’s legitimate wariness of rape culture.

            Self-described “nice guys” who take Rebecca to task for ‘overreacting’ are perpetuating this inequality by placing the pressure to yield on the least privileged person in the equation. Rather than using their status as men to call into question the tacit of assumptions of a patriarchal culture, they instead insist that it is Rebecca who must change to suit them.

          3. [this is meant as an answer to maddoc, but there seems to be no “Reply” button there :D]

            Well, wait… don’t imagine us always hiding under our beds shouting “Rapist! Rapist!” :D
            As someone said, we are not constantly afraid… we are constantly vigilant.
            As for the “cultural” thing… i don’t think it’s related to nationality (i live in italy, by the way).
            It appears to me to be more related to… well, you being male :)
            Maybe in Germany there really is a very different social environment, but maybe you are not noticing some behaviours that your female friends have and that you just consider to be normal.
            I don’t know if this is the case, but try to consider this:
            – would your female friends go alone in a subway at 1 AM?
            – would your female friends accept a car lift from a male stranger? Would they more easily accept it from a female stranger?
            – do your female friends appear to be a little nervous or unconfortable if they hear a catcall?

    2. *uhm* I think you missed a couple of points
      1. i think no-one is accusing Dawkins of being a rape apologist. At least if someone did, i missed it. He is being accused of dismissing a normal and reasonable worry of every woman
      2. no-one said that Elevator Guy was a rapist and no-one is comparing what he did to a rape. The object here is what make women feel unconfortable, uneasy and threatened. Ok? We NOW know that the guy was just a socially inept who didn’t have a clue on what he was doing wrong, but we know it NOW, that Rebecca has come out of that elevator. When she was there, she probably wasn’t so sure. I wouldn’t be.
      And… if any of you have found a 100% certain way to recognize a rapist from a social idiot, please, let us know. But it must be 100%… because, you know, if i make a mistake, i end up being raped, beaten and maybe killed. That’s why i (and any woman) cannot presume that every guy i meet is a good guy.
      And to answer someone else (sorry, can’t find the comment anymore), no, we don’t usually consider every man i meet a potential rapist (i don’t, at least). It’s just that… well, the definition i have for a man that i wouldn’t consider a potential rapist is “someone who doesn’t ask me to have sex in a situation where i cannot flee”.

      1. Understood, and mostly agreed.

        I feel very uncomfortable knowing that some people out there see a man who asks for a date in an isolated situation as a potential rapist, by default. It is sad to know that the people who think that way probably have good reasons to do so. But still, it’s good that this does not count for *every* man you meet, but only those who ask you to come into their room in a hotel elevator late at night. Maybe I can live with that. And yes, I know some of the reasons behind that.

        Now that I think of it… All the cases that I personally have heard of began with isolated situations like the one in the elevator. Maybe I start to understand.

        Let me add one more consideration: This is not just about men asking women for a date. Sometimes – rarely – men are being raped by women, and rapes also happen among gay people. I think we can agree that this should never happen, and no one should ever be afraid of it. Every reasonable thing we can do to get closer to this ideal is a good thing.

        1. I think the problem is that you’re thinking about the feeling of threat involved in situations with highly disproportionate power in a very conscious sense. Most women wouldn’t immediately articulate all the times that situations they were uncomfortable or threatened stemmed from an analyzed fear of rape. It’s very, very subtle; we avoid situations and react in particular ways because on a very deep gut level we’ve been culturally trained to be afraid. It sucks.

          Hell, it took me years to figure out that many of my anxieties about being aware of my surroundings and fear of having someone behind me (including my husband/best friend of over a decade) were created by a sexual assault I experienced as a teenager.

          1. Your explanation seems to work for me; it gets me thinking. I just remembered several situations when women told me about creepy situations with men. Although it mostly was anecdotal, sometimes with a humorous note, I now realize that there was always the fear of abuse implied on a subtle level.

            One thing which makes it hard for me to think this way is that we are talking about men in general. The category “men in general” includes me. And in my self perception, there is a strong aversion of associating myself with the category of rapists. When thinking or talking about this topic, I instinctively want to get as much separation as possible between myself and those people. It is almost as if I am obliged to always add: “But that’s not me, I’m not one of them. Guaranteed.”

            Maybe this is because I, too, instinctively know about the subtle fear of women regarding abuse, and I subconciously feel the urge to make absolutely clear that I am not one of those guys. (Which would be pointless; every rapist would say the same before he committed the assault.)

            Another thing is abhorrence. Like everyone, I have supreme contempt for rapists. And I do not want them to have any influence on how we normal people live our lives. Having a rule like “don’t hit on a woman when you’re alone with her” seems to give these people some degree of influence on our freedom of choice. That feels bad.

            Those are just some loose thoughts that just went through my head. I found your comments very inspiring.

          2. I know what you mean. With this ongoing discussion I’ve been doing a lot of thinking back and I realize that I’ve been pretty much conditioned to be vigilant since 2nd grade. I was almost raped by my male babysitter (I ran out of the house after I managed to free myself from his grasp – other kids weren’t so lucky. The guy was prosecuted years later for sexual assault on other girls) and at age 17 I was groped in broad day light while waiting for a train. Needless to say, I’m extremely aware of my surroundings. Of course… it doesn’t help that I have generalized anxiety…

            I don’t think about those incidents much. Well… I wasn’t until now. But its there, you know, running in the background.

        2. Thank you for the consideration you’re giving this topic, Madoc.

          Several men have posted similarly to you – “I feel very uncomfortable knowing that some people out there see a man who asks for a date in an isolated situation as a potential rapist, by default.” Fortunately most of us don’t see another person as a potential rapist or murderer or whatever unless certain behaviors crop up or we’re in a higher risk environment.

          Considerate people can avoid warning-sign behaviors (eg in Rebecca’s case ignoring her repeated stated disinterest in being hit on, showing no interest in getting to know her until she was alone). As for the environment, ask for a date out of earshot of other people but not somewhere with no escape route! Of course if you’ve known the person for a bit, the elevator might be fine.

          I was once lost in a car-park in Harlem late at night and just when I discovered there was no exit to the street, a car’s lights lit up and the vehicle headed towards me! I felt nervous for a few seconds but then the car stopped and a woman stuck her head out of the window to give me directions. She knew not to corner me or get too close.

          1. “Considerate people can avoid warning-sign behaviors”
            Yes, and when considerate people do avoid warning-sign behaviors, this does not mean they are ‘buying into the victim mentality’ or ‘agreeing that all men are potential rapists’ but instead that they proactively refuse to normalize the rapist’s TACTICS, leaving him out there all alone without cover in his creepiness, obviously abnormal so that women then quickly see him as alarming.

            Couldn’t link to reply directly to the post, but ‘the women I know haven’t mentioned they worry about this’ literally made tears come to my eyes. I have contact with a lot of men during the normal course of my days. OF COURSE I never mention my anti-rape tactics and planning to them. Why would any woman take the risk of sharing her rape prevention tactics with those in the group from which she needs to protect herself?

        3. Oh, I agree :-)
          In this case we’re talking about “rape threat” because that’s what this specific situation implies. But i wouldn’t feel less threatened if a woman did something that i could consider menacing. I probably wouldn’t be afraid of rape, but… well, i don’t think that being beaten, or knifed or robbed is a pleasant experience :)
          The thing that i appreciated more of Rebecca initial video (i’m not so sure about her consequent “exposing” of McGraw’s post) is that she probably was doing this to explain which are the things that keep this situation unchanged. What i perceived in her video is “Guys, we don’t think you’re all rapists, please consider that this kind of behaviour is slightly threatening and makes us feel as if you don’t care about our desires (aka: going to bed because i’m exausted) and will (aka: not being hit on by someone i haven’t exchanged a word with and who didn’t listen to what i’ve spent the evening saying)”
          To say it even more clearly: my (and i use “my” because i cannot speak for every woman on the planet, and not even for a majority, i’m afraid) position is not “You’re a potential rapist unless you show me you’re not”, but, instead “You’re not a potential rapist unless you do something that scares me”
          I might be easily scared, but i don’t put a “rapist” label on people without, at least, some reason. :)

    3. There are men who follow women and then rape them.

      There are men who follow women, and whilst being creepy, don’t do anything ‘wrong’ as you put it.

      How is a woman supposed to tell the difference before actually being raped/being left alone?

      All Rebecca asked was that the latter type of men not actually do that anymore, please, as it still makes them very uncomfortable.

      1. There is no way of knowing what other people will do. A good level of trust is required for everyday interactions.

        Assume we say it’s a rule that men shall not make a move on female strangers in a situation of isolation. What about the opposite? Is a woman allowed to hit on a man at 4 a.m. in an elevator? What when two women are involved, and at least one of them is homosexual? What about two men?

        What we are doing here is: We restrict communication. And we do this on the basis – of what? Rape statistics?

        I don’t know. Can you understand how this feels wrong to me?

        1. It takes a certainly level of empathy to imagine what’s like to be in somebody else’s shoes, but switching the roles isn’t necessarily the way to do it. As a man you would (almost certainly) never have had to slap away wandering hands while at work or ignore dog whistles while walking down the street. As a straight man you’ve probably never had to deal with people calling you “faggot” in a threatening way. As a white man you wouldn’t have been called a “nigger”.

          Because of this, imagining that somebody shouted “straight guy!” or “whitey” out of a car window or that a woman grabbed your arse while at work doesn’t carry the same meaning as the reverse. You have to learn about the history of sexism (and racism, and homophobia, etc.) and then imagine spending a lifetime in somebody else’s shoes, not just one specific moment.

          That’s what we mean when talk about empathy and privilege. Overcoming a lifetime of privilege takes imagining a lifetime without it.

        2. If a woman approached a man at 4am in an elevator, what is the man’s risk of being raped? Has that man been told since childhood to avoid elevators at 4am? Has this man had his choices and interactions severely limited in the name of “preventing rape” by getting women to stop getting themselves raped?

          It’s not just “statistics” to women, Marc. It’s our lives. It’s a gamble with our safety we take every time we stick our noses out the door. In fact, just by going to places alone and maybe having a drink or two, we open ourselves wide to all kinds of bad things and if those bad things should happen, either no one would believe us or no one would take it seriously (why were you alone? why did you drink? why didn’t you scream the moment he came into the elevator? common sense can prevent rapes, you know. You must have wanted it and just regretted it in the morning).

          Like I said, those statistics? Yeah, they are our lives. Many of us ARE part of the statistics. Many many. I live in a country with an insane rape number, where one in FOUR men has admitted to having raped a woman (South Africa).

          It simply doesn’t work to gender switch on this one. IF we were already an egalitarian society where rape is rare, rapists are usually caught and when caught, usually sentenced independent of what the victim did or didn’t do, sure, then we could talk about that.

          But that’s not where we are right now, and that is the reality that shapes most women’s reactions.

          Also, it’s not constant fear. It’s constant VIGILANCE. There’s a difference, and it’s not unreasonable, emotional, “letting rapists control how we act” or anything like that. It’s self preservation and maybe giving yourself a fighting chance in court, SHOULD something happen and SHOULD it actually get to court.

        3. Yes, i can see. But, you see, if you change those rule in “don’t put people in situations they might consider unconfortable” it becomes a lot easier and doesn’t require to cut off communications. But it requires people to try and understand what might make someone else unconfortable.
          I mean… if we are alone in an elevator, i don’t expect you to avoid talking to me. I expect you not to offer me sex :-)
          Especially if we’ve never met before. And… really… i don’t understand how can anyone consider such behaviour as “normal”. And i don’t understand why it is so difficult to explain -_-

        4. “Assume we say it’s a rule that men shall not make a move on female strangers in a situation of isolation. What about the opposite? Is a woman allowed to hit on a man at 4 a.m. in an elevator?”
          That’s a good question to be raising. If we are trying to establish etiquette rules for hitting on people at conferences (and elsewhere) we should probably open a conversation on this aspect too, and ask men for their thoughts (other than “oh yes please!”)on being hit on by women, and if we need to set any ground rules. Not being male, I don’t feel qualified to speak for the men in this situation.

      1. The video is cool but creepy. It immediately raises the question: What if she wouldn’t have been so courageous, or so strong? – Anyway, I still hope it’s fake.

        1. Yeah, creepy huh. The part that scared me most is where he suddenly leapt out and held her back from exiting. Doesn’t matter if it’s real. It happens.

          I also googled elevator rape. Lots and lots of elevator rape porno. Pathetic. A few surveillance videos of sexual assaulters in action that are being sought. So it is not an unjustified concern for women.

          I must compliment you again on working towards an understanding. Hope a few of the bone-heads out there have as much courage.

          1. The responses to my thread have been extremely helpful, and I am very happy that all of you took the time to write them. You gave me a new perspective.

  53. I am very grateful that everyone is not like Dawkins. Though I do hate that whenever feminist issues come up, it becomes about how women hate men, even when it’s often advice on how not to creep women out. When I wrote about this I was told I was paranoid and had probably never had a good experience with a man, and was then, of course, made an offer I could easily refuse.

    I just… I am always surprised. Like you I was briefly hopeless, but PZ and Phil reminded me that not everyone is Dawkins or Hitch. And I still respect Dawkins and Hitch, despite their apparent sexism, but they can’t quite be heroes anymore. Maybe that’s a good thing, I dunno. But I don’t think I’m ready to write either one of them off. Someone can be wrong, grossly wrong, on one subject and still have a lot of important things to say.

  54. I came into the scptical/atheist movement holding the same kind of ideas, that feminism had largely done it’s work.

    Then situations like this one opened my eyes, and thanks to people like you (and the other SkepChicks), Jen McCreight, Amanda Marcotte, Greta Christina, PZ Myers and many, many more helped me to understand how feminism still still very much needed, especially in a movement like ours where evidence and science are supposed to be so highly regarded, but aren’t when a topic brushes against privilege.

    So thank you, and I hope that we can become a better movement because of all of your (and other’s) hard work.

  55. This Dawkins boycott seems like the latest in a series of overreactions by everyone involved in this elevator incident. Lets remember what you and he disagree on. You disagree on whether this particular incident, where someone approached you in an inappropriate place and at an inappropriate time, was harmful. You and he don’t disagree about respecting women as a general principal, you disagree about application of that respect to a particular incident. And as your title suggests, part of the reason you disagree is that Dawkins doesn’t experience the world like you do. I think that demonizing him for one relatively small disagreement is a bit harsh, but then I’m okay being friends with agnostics too.

    1. ChrisZ, 99.9% of the people on Earth have always agreed on “respecting women as a general principle”. The disagreement has always been over the details of what this means in practice. Asserting agreement to a general principle means very little. What matters is how people act.

      Boycotting is not demonizing.

      Opportunity cost: money spent on Dawkins is money that could have been spent on someone better. A boycott would make less sense in a world of infinite resources. A boycott is rational in this world of opportunity costs.

      1. Well put. My money, and time to enjoy media, is limited. Dawkins has proven that he shouldn’t get either, and instead I can discover different atheist writers to enjoy.

  56. Just wanted to add to all the voices expressing my deep disappointment in Richard Dawkins, and my admiration for Rebecca and other feminists and bloggers working to change the skeptical and atheist movements. I’m really pleased that you’ve started to really introduce notions of privilege into our conversation, and I hope that if we all make a concerted effort to take ownership of our own privilege, be it male, white, straight, cis, currently abled, whatever, we can widen our perspective, our knowledge and our influence. Good on you.

  57. “And then I would make a comment about how there could really be more women in the community, and the responses from my fellow skeptics and atheists ranged from “No, they’re not logical like us,” to “Yes, so we can fuck them!” That seemed weird.”
    The ‘that seemed weird’ made me laugh. I could hear Rebecca saying it in a quite, confused voice.

    Anyways, I can’t really comment on any of this, as a fully acknowledged privileged white male, who’s 6’6, 240 pounds, I can just promise that I don’t hit on women, (happily married) ,even when drunk. I try to smile a lot, as I realize my size might make me threatening, and am very sorry for the comments Dawkins made and will promise to try and help further feminism, if I can. I’ve done boneheaded male stuff, but I’ll keep trying not to. Thanks for the post, keep it up, and please keep helping raise everyone’s awareness.

    Now back to making my lovely Chemist some chocolate chip cookies. Just trying help fight one more small stereotype. Plus she really likes cookies.

  58. Skepchick, you are a hero to me. That you’ve been victimized by fellow skeptics is shameful. You deserve respect in all things. Shame on those who believe it’s okay to separate their skeptical outlook and their humanity.

  59. I’m not sure it’s possible to resolve an issue like this in blog comments, so I’m not going to debate the topic, especially because I’m a survivor of the thread on Pharyngula, but I would like to add my voice to the hopefully loud chorus of people who support Rebecca.

    I’m a white male and let me tell you, there is no reason to not list those attributes when taking a boorish privileged jerk to task. I’m not ashamed of my demographic as it applies to me, but man does the general behavior of white guys make me facepalm a lot.

    So, to any who are reading this and thinking, “How DARE she take all white males to task when she talks about Dawkins!?”, that’s your privilege talking.

    You’ve got to turn that one down a little (actually a lot). There’s a switch you can use for that, it’s right next to the empathy dial. Gotta turn that dial way up first, naturally.

  60. I think Richard Dawkins owes you an apolog. Big time. This was the man who, through his work, highlighted the importance of consciousness raising with respect to the overly masculine use of language. It was him that brought that to my attention and made me more careful about how I spoke and wrote. Surely fussing over such a thing as that is trivial in comparison to FGM isn’t it? Surely fussing over whether a child is labelled a “Catholic” or correctly called “a child of catholic parents” is insignificant beside the horrors of the mental and physical abuse suffered by children at the hands of the Catholic Church? I assume that, like me, Richard does not accept such things as too trivial to mention and certainly not so irrelevant so as to be dismissed with the kind of casual backhanded remarks he used to dismiss this generally important issue.

    In the probably unlikely event that he may read this I address the following to him:

    Through your books Richard I learned the value of being able to admit when I was wrong. I learned that it took courage and moral fortitude to do so because admitting fault is the first step towards learning what is correct. You were wrong in this Richard and I sincerely hope you have the integrity to admit it. 

  61. I am a biological male and though my gender is androgynous, people would assume that I man-gendered. Because of that assumption, I get those privileges afforded to men. And I know because of this, I know I have to look at myself and see where I could be wronging women.

    I can relate to some very tiny extent, however: I am physically disabled. From my perspective, chronic disability is something people ignore, intentionally or not, and give platitudes like “It could be worse,” as if that will make things all better, or simply can’t comprehend the level at which people like me struggle. It enrages me when I read about an experience how crappy our medical establishment is, but nobody on any aisle is producing results. People are more concerned about playing for a team than actually getting things done. It enrages me when I hear about some quack hawking products that all sorts of people with disabilities will fall for because of how little hope we have.

    I know this because I was led down that path for a time. That’s how I came to skepticism. People get used to things like this, it becomes ingrained, and then people get uncomfortable when you broach the topic. I am sick and tired of losing so many friends to chronic disability. And I can see that same struggle in women. It’s not enough to have an opinion. You have to be loud and angry and you have to shove things in people’s faces. You do it again and again and again, and there’s still more to go. It’s the most frustrating thing in the world, and when you express that frustration, people look at you strangely.

    When I hear other males saying things like Dawkins, I can’t help but think of the struggles I have with my disability, and I get just as enraged. If I didn’t question my assumptions about how I treat women, I’d feel like I was acting like people do toward the disabled. I couldn’t live with myself if that were routine.

    Keep going, keep attacking, and if people don’t like it, they can go fuck themselves.

  62. Skepticism is so much more than Bigfoot and UFO’s. Everything should be questioned.

  63. I’ve sent him a letter as well, and copied you. (I’m still in shock. It’s like finding there’s no Piltdown man… oh, wait…)

    Sorry, lame joke. That’s how I deal. I’m sorry that a creepy incident (momentary but creepy nonetheless) has turned into the Twilight Zone incident that it has.

  64. I’m frustrated that a rich, white, well educated man cannot see beyond his own privilege but I’m not shocked. I would expect more of Dawkins but it’s not earth shaking that he would feel this way.

    What does upset me are the women who parrot the same sentiments he shares. They, like he, immediately jump to the logical fallacies, pointing out that your having not been raped was somehow proof that the situation is not one that should make a person feel uncomfortable or that because other people have been in worse situations, the situation itself wasn’t worthy of note. And even worse, saying that because they haven’t personally experienced this exact situation, yours must somehow be anomalous.

    I saw your original video and you clearly stated that you just felt it was an uncomfortable situation to be in. How often do you think men are actually told when they are doing something that makes an individual uncomfortable? For most men, probably never and when it does happen, he probably brushes her off as a “prude” or a “bitch.”

    And yet these same exact men and the women who are backing the Dawkins’ defense, if they are raising daughters, probably tell them not to go into confined spaces with strangers, and implore them not to go into a locked room with a stranger. These are no-brainer lessons you want to instill in your child to keep her safe.

    You weren’t saying this man was a rapist, you were saying he put you in a position where the only way to make a rational and safe choice was to be rude to him by declining his exceedingly risky offer. As someone attending an event devoted to rational thinking, this was a truly ironic move on his part. It should be laughable that anyone would argue you’ve made some sort of insane accusation.

    He was a dick to propose that you put yourself in a risky position and an even bigger dick to do it while you were in a confined space, alone with him.

    Again, I’m frustrated that people in a place of privilege don’t see that, can’t even imagine if you were their daughter or sister, or cousin or mother, and the man were some stranger she didn’t know. But I’m downright offended that there are women buying into that thinking too. I doubt any of them would say to a girl they were raising “don’t go into confined and locked spaces with strangers, unless you think they probably are nice.”

    Keep talking about and keep calling people out for this. Changes don’t happen overnight. While I think people do creepy things for non-creepy reasons, they won’t change if they don’t know what they are doing is creepy.

  65. there seems to be a fair amount of (to use another joking phrase from the video) “straw personing” in some of the comments critical of Rebecca. In particular, there seem to be some people who are fine with what Rebecca actually said, but who are really offended by *insert thing she never said here*. I’ve certainly not seen Rebecca say that Dawkins was a rape apologist, and I’d be amazed if anyone else had either.

    1. More than a fair amount, don’t you think? The sort of strawpersoning is pretty rampant, and seems to be part of a larger semi-delusional exercise that a bunch of guys (and a few women) are engaging in.

      There are elaborate fantasy descriptions of “what might have happened” that has nothing to do with the pretty damned clear description in the video. There are assumptions about Elevator Guy’s potential position on the autism spectrum as an excuse. There’s an almost universal tendency of RW’s critics to rewrite every rational and measured comment to read “all men are rapists, every man is evil, women live in constant fear and it is ALL YOUR FAULT SPECIFICALLY, YES YOU IN PARTICULAR!” It isn’t just refusing to empathize with Rebecca or women in general, it is an almost pathological identifying with Elevator Guy to the point that some guys seem to think all of these threads are about them personally… which is the only thing that might explain why so many men are getting so defensive about an issue that isn’t really about them at all.

  66. I first read about this on reddit, and was inclined to side with Dawkins since I didn’t get the whole story. However, are going to Greg’s, PZ’s, and this blog to get a little background information, I think you’re in the right.

    The key for me was to realize you had not accused the guy of attempting to assault you, but rather simply expressed your discomfort. Your feelings are a value judgement of his behavior. He clearly was just socially inept, and you made a judgement call. Nothing wrong with that. From what I can tell based on your video and your notes, elevator man did nothing wrong, other than being a dummy and not seeing how propositioning a woman in the elevator could be interpreted poorly. The proper response to a situation like that is to simply raise awareness, in just the way you did (elevator dude: People get raped in elevators. Being forward with women in that situation makes them uncomfortable. Have some empathy. Don’t do that.).

    Richard Dawkins did indeed overreact. However, I’m also surprised at how many people are wiling to write him off over this. Astounded actually. How many books has he written, talks given, cash given for atheism and skepticism in general, including related topics and causes like feminism? And you are all willing to dump him on the side of the road as a “relic from a bygone era” just like that? It’s no wonder atheists in America can’t get any traction. We’re willing to back-stab and bad-mouth each other at the earliest opportunity. Skepchick, I agree with you. Richard, you’re in the wrong. Inviting someone to coffee when you’re alone in the elevator is not the same as doing it in a public place. But you know what? It’s ok. We all make mistakes. I hope you can learn from this one.

  67. Rebecca, once again, you demonstrate why you are my hero. And I am a privileged old white dude, too :)

  68. This really confuses me, this whole business. First, I’m not at all surprised that Richard Dawkins is a dick. That’s not the point though. The main thing here is why did he take it upon himself to give his 5 cents on this anyway? It’s none of his business. If Rebecca felt uncomfortable then she felt uncomfortable and that’s the end of it.

    Why do guys get so odd and defensive when women make comments like this?

  69. There’s a difference between how you perceive the reality of a situation, and the reality of a situation. A man asking you to join him for coffee, politely, in an elevator may be awkward and may make you uncomfortable as a woman, but that’s more of an etiquette issue. That was in no way, whatsoever, sexual assault or objectification. It would seem that your rule of thumb is that, for safety sake, assume all men are rapists. Crying wolf?

    1. Dawkins is, as you well know, an extremely important and intelligent man who’s positive influence can’t possibly be quantified. He doesn’t share your perspective and thinks your being unreasonable. He has every right to state his opinions in which ever manner he chooses. This makes him an asshole?

      1. Yes, people can absolutely be intelligent, important, and assholes all at the same time! In fact, I would hazard that it’s not even necessarily rare for an important person with some good ideas to be an asshole. This doesn’t mean you necessarily ignore their contributions or ideas.

        In fact, good skepticism really requires questioning the ideas of leaders of our own movement, not just of other movements. It’s not enough to point fingers at the religious, those who believe in the paranormal, and those who buy into things like Wakefield’s anti-vaccination movement and talk about how wrong they are.

    2. She never said he was a rapist. You are attacking a straw man.

    3. I don’t think you know what “crying wolf” means.

      1 out of every 6 men is a rapist. This is the exact proportion of Russian Roulette with a common revolver. How often do you play Russian Roulette? One a day? Year? Never?

      Firearm safety demands that one treat all guns as if loaded all the time, in all circumstances, and never to point one at anything you do not want to destroy EVER. This is not “crying wolf” is is essential to handling firearms safely.

      Of course, you can choose to handle firearms or not. You can choose to play Russian Roulette or not. But women cannot help but take that 1 in 6 chance and live in the world.

      Not only that, but any time a woman is alone with a strange man, it is exactly the same as you squeezing the trigger. “Will this be the time the gun goes off?”, translates to “Is this the time i will be attacked”?

      So it is prudent for women to assume that all men are rapists until proven otherwise. It is not difficult to prove otherwise, usually. So use opportunities like this to plant yourself firmly in the 5 out of 6 camp.

  70. Rebecca, you are spot on, don’t back down. Feminists like you are much needed in the skeptic and atheist movements. I tried hard to raise my sons as feminists, so they would never respond as Dawkins did, nor would they be the lout on the elevator. I just hope I succeeded.

  71. I have to get up early tomorrow so I’ll keep this short.

    While I often enjoy Dawkins’ published work and it will remain hidden in the dark depths of my Kindle, I shall join others – on other forums – in saying that I will henceforth arm myself with chewing gum in the off chance I share a lift with him at any point in the future (muahaha, I also wear baseball caps backwards – my neck burns easily).

    Rebecca, I love your blogging and your talks, though I have only ever been able to view them on YouTube, keep up the good work.

  72. Well put, Rebecca. I’m with you 100%.
    Massively disappointed in Dawkins. How one so ‘bright’ can be so dimwitted at the same time beats me. I’m also a bit shocked by some of the responses from fellow Atheist. WTF’s that all about?
    Anyway, I hereby confirm your superhero-status.

  73. Ms Watson, I wonder what initially your intention was when you mentioned the incident in the video. Do you think that the coverage of the incident will attract more or less women to the atheist / skeptic movement? Do you think it will have a long term effect on the behaviour of men at atheist / skeptic events?

    Looking forward to your answers. Thanks

    1. Anon Skeptic, you wonder what Rebecca’s intention was when she mentioned the incident in her video? Did you watch the video? Did you read the post at the top of this page? Do you think RW expected the Spanish Inquisition or anticipated the shitstorm that has transpired?

      I thought her intention was quite clear. She was giving a word to the wise; a little tip to the socially naive on unwelcome behaviour.

      I suspect the reaction will probably deter a few women from attending atheist/skeptic conferences but I don’t really think you can blame Rebecca for that. Blame all the airheads who are trying to invalidate her concerns. All she did was help to illustrate the enormity of a problem that already existed.

      1. Thanks for your answer. But it causes me to ask a follow up question. If the intention was to give a word to the wise do you think this was effective?

        1. The real question is whether the “wise” can be considered as such.

        2. Yes, I think it was massively effective.

          You must remember: it started with a conversation Rebecca had in a vlog with those who follow her, and just a gentle “dudes, don’t do that. It’s not going to get you what you want in the first place, and it’s pretty damn creepy”. Not even 30 seconds out of an almost 8 minute vlog.

          That’s all it was supposed to be, so I’d say yes, in that context it was very effective – many who are socially awkward took that and actually thought “Wow, I didn’t realize that. Thanks for the heads up!”. That’s where it could have ended.

          Then some people said “WUT? How DARE you tell men when to approach women, you feminazi hypocrite, now humans can never reproduce again!” (paraphrased sardonically, the comments were more like “hey, you wouldn’t have been creeped out if you were a dude and a women did that, you sexist), and Rebecca used that misunderstanding (it’s not the same, see my reply above somewhere upthread for more details why) as a teachable moment.

          Was THAT effective? Yes. I totally think so. If you’re going to be a student leader in the freethought/skeptic movement and criticize someone who’s going to be a keynote speaker in a conference you helped arrange and will be present at on things you don’t understand the first thing about, you cannot cry “FOUL” when called out. I think at the very least, people should realize that little bit of academic honesty.

          As for the internet furor? Was THAT effective?

          I think in some ways, yes. Many people were educated, many flounced and said “You skeptics slash feminazis are SO MEEN”. Ask yourself: is that the kind of allies you want? Someone who will abandon your back the moment things get controversial? IN ATHEISM? Or fighting for your rights to exist as an equal human being? These are hard, ugly battle-weary topics.

          (Whether the internet furor was effective or not, though, it was not what Rebecca had planned when she made her vlog, so to lay whatever effects it has (oh no, someone’s fee fees got hurt? The horror!) solely on Rebecca and basically saying that she’s scaring “new recruits” (what are we, Jesus Camp?) away through this fight is massively unfair and totally untrue.)

          I think this whole thing turned out massively successful from a consciousness raising point of view, and I think Rebecca is a stellar person (though I don’t always agree with everything she says, oh the shock!) for her graceful conduct during what must have been one mother of a nightmare, as are those who are backing her, and am just sorry that, as someone else said earlier, this has turned into such a Twilight Zone thing for her.

  74. Rebecca, thanks so much for courageously speaking out and letting everyone know how you feel about this. Hard feelings will blow over and many, including Dawkins will reflect on this sooner or later, and change their behavior accordingly. Already far more are in agreement with PZ on this. Atheists, while libertarian, range across the political spectrum and are not necessarily feminist or even progressive. But the atheist field is fertile and seeds of discontent tend to grow there. I admire Hitchens but don’t forgive his militarist stance on the Iraq war. So hang in there and keep vlogging away!

  75. Could someone please rephrase the issues here without any reliance on postmodern thought.

    I see a logical inconsistency to use the postmodernism of feminism and the evidence, reason based of skepticism. How are those getting mixed here, why and to what purpose?

    1. I’m having trouble understanding your question; what do you mean by “the postmodernism of feminism”?

      1. Feminism has a rich history of postmodern analysis and language deconstruction. This type of analysis clouds issues rather than identifies them. Scientific thought has no use for postmodernist complaints.

        For example. Is science male? Such a question is unanswerable by science, correct? Some other methodology/epistemology is presumed. As skeptics, should we even open the door to postmodernistic feminism? Is their such a thing as Scientific Feminism? I think there is (or could be) but the postmodern roots of feminism have only hurt us here in this case.

        What would scientific feminism look like?

        The original argumentation from this blog post opens the door to Post-Modern Feminism. I’m just wondering if that is door that a skeptic really wants to open?

        Moreover, is that a methodolgy that is all helpful in promoting justice?

        1. Wait, you’re saying that skeptics AREN’T ALLOWED (or should think carefully coz it’s *dangerous*) to use post

          And the proposed solution was made very, very clear: dudes, this is the wrong way to try and get a date. It won’t work (and if it does work, the chances of her saying ‘yes’ just because she’s scared is high, is that what you want?) and it makes women feel bad. Word to the wise? Don’t do that.”

          I mean, that’s a very clear solution. Also, your definition of postmodernist feminism and science? Way off. Seriously.

        2. I’m with AstroCJ; what on earth are you talking about?

          “For example. Is science male? Such a question is unanswerable by science, correct? Some other methodology/epistemology is presumed.”

          Again: what? Science itself is not male, female, or any other gender or sex; and even if applying terms like that made any kind of sense, how would it be relevant to anything discussed here?

          “As skeptics, should we even open the door to postmodernistic feminism? Is their such a thing as Scientific Feminism? I think there is (or could be) but the postmodern roots of feminism have only hurt us here in this case.”

          I don’t exactly see any kind of connection between feminism and PoMo. Especially not with the roots, given that the suffrage movement got started long before Modernism.

          “What would scientific feminism look like?”

          Presumably, getting more women into the STEM (Science, Engineering, Technology, Math) fields while using scientific methods and knowledge to understand and combat privilege. In other words, feminism focused on the scientific community and carried out scientifically.

          “The original argumentation from this blog post opens the door to Post-Modern Feminism. I’m just wondering if that is door that a skeptic really wants to open?”

          Um, how, exactly, is describing what happened a case of PoMo?

        3. “Postmodern.” You keep on using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

    2. That women earn 70% of a man’s salary, the high incidence of rape and sexual assault against women, that women are routinely objectified and treated objectively different from men isn’t enough evidence for you?

      Now that we have evidence that women are treated as inferior to men, lets work on changing that, possibly by creating some kind of movement, let’s call it ‘feminism’.

      Just as when we have evidence of medical quackery, religious buffoonery, faith healer scams, and video tapes of bigfoot, we created a movement called ‘scepticism’.

      1. When you introduce the term “objectified” do you consider all the post-modern history that comes with it’s use and definition? (e.g., males created science so women should create a new epistemology that doesn’t use reason).

        Just as you listed evidence of harms and discrimination towards a class of people. Would we not be better served, as a skeptical community, to bluntly state the facts and set an ideal? What is the proposed solution?

        Basically, the main blog article failed as a skeptical analysis. It seemed to waiver in and out of post-modernism without any clear objective, or positive goal. I just want a more scientific case, because I find scientific argument more persuasive and accurate. I back her position (i.e., more justice and fairness for all). I just want a more skeptical presentation.

        1. I think that you’re effectively asking that every blogpost start again from feminism 101 and show their workings all the way. That doesn’t sound productive to me – like requiring every combinatorics paper to state the Peano axioms. I’d suggest reading some related articles (the presentation of Schrodinger’s Rapist is quite good) to get some relevant context.

          Further, I have no idea what you’re trying to get across with your talk of postmodernism. I’ve never heard anyone say that women should discover a new way of thinking because science was axiomatised by men. Sounds like woo.

  76. Maybe that’s how Richard picks up women at atheist conferences? It probably hit a nerve for him to go off like that.

    Dawkins is always going to find it hard to see how he’s wrong because there are so many people who think he’s always right and whatever comes out of his mouth is gospel. I’ve seen this before, I was a mormon!

    More rational rationalists please!

    Oh in other Dawkins news, he’s been ordered by a Judge to pay monetary sanctions to the defendants and ordered him to produce documents he’s withholding (http://dawkinssuestimonen.com). You’d think they’d be handy if you’re going in to legal action against someone!?

    Keep rational guys, always look for the evidence!

    Keep up the good work Rebecca. Seems Dawkins’ days are numbered. He’s a dinosaur.

  77. Here are Phil’s own words, replacing the context with race & robbery instead of sex. See how this sounds.

    “Being alone in an elevator with a black person late at night is uncomfortable for any white person, even if the black person is silent. But when the black person mentions money? There’s no way to avoid a predatory vibe here, and that’s unacceptable. A situation like this can lead to a mugging; I just read in the news here in Boulder that a few days ago a relatively innocent situation turned into assault. This isn’t some rare event; it happens a lot and most white people are all-too painfully aware of it.
    I can understand that it’s hard for black people to truly grasp the white person’s point of view here, since black people rarely feel in danger of being robbed by whites. But Jen McCrieght’s post, and many others, make it clear that to a white person, being alone on that elevator with that black person was a potential threat, and a serious one. You may not be able to just press a button and walk away — perhaps the black person has a knife, or a gun, or will simply overpower you. When there’s no way to know, you err on the side of safety. And what makes this worse is that most black people don’t understand this, so white people are constantly put into situations ranging from uncomfortable to downright scary.”

    Ergo, black people had better take special care to be less black, because black people are scary.

    1. your comparison doesn’t hold up. Black people have not traditionally held a position of power over white people, whereas men have traditionally held a position of power over women.

      1. You don’t need a position of power to rob someone. In fact the people with no power who become desperate are usually the ones who turn to crime.

        Given the disproportionate amount of criminals who are black the comparison absolutely holds up.

        1. I wish I could frame this and show it to anyone making the ‘what if he was black’ argument who might not yet realize that he or she is racist.

    2. While it’s nice to justify your privilege denial by twisting of words and intent, there is a key difference in what you’ve done in your substitutions.

      You have taken a class that has a history of privilege and centuries of documented discrimination of oppressing others and replaced it with a class of people who have historically been an oppressed party. You have thus twisted the argument into one historically used to justify African American’s lower status in society. Congratulations.

      Now if you had substituted “men” with “white people,” “women” with “black people” and “sexism” with “racism” you would have successfully transmuted Shroedinger’s Rapist to Shroedinger’s Racist. Do you see the difference?

      1. It’s not as clear as you think.
        A lot of white women are still racist.
        A lot of them are also scared of men of color.

      2. “While it’s nice to justify your privilege denial by twisting of words and intent,”

        He used the OP’s logic and replaced it with another prejudiced fear people have.

        ” and replaced it with a class of people who have historically been an oppressed party.”

        We’re talking about muggings, being in an oppressed party does not prevent them from being muggers. Quite the opposite it could make them desperate and more likely to commit a crime.

        “You have thus twisted the argument into one historically used to justify African American’s lower status in society.”

        Yeah an irrational fear of blacks just like the OP has an irrational fear of women.

        “Now if you had substituted “men” with “white people,” “women” with “black people” and “sexism” with “racism” you would have successfully transmuted Shroedinger’s Rapist to Shroedinger’s Racist. Do you see the difference?”

        So now you’re going to defend black people being afraid of all white people beating them up?

        1. Meant the OP has an irrational fear of men.

          But the point is being afraid of people on the basis of gender or race or whatever is prejudiced and should be looked down on as the stupid belief that it is.

    3. When a person gets robbed, it’s generally agreed that the robber is the one at fault.

      When a woman is raped, she is questioned about her sexual past, what she’s been wearing, if she asked him to put on a condom, why she was alone in a secluded place with him, if she had been drinking and any number of possible other intrusive and irrelevant questions. If she cannot produce proof that the sexual encounter was non-consensual, he will be let off the hook. This happens now, in 2010.

      Women, unfortunately, are held responsible for other people’s horrible behavior and until that changes, they have every right to be suspicious of a situation that could put them at serious risk.

  78. I teach self-defense, and a question like you got in a closed space from a stranger sounds just like “interviewing” which is a method of lowering a victim’s guard and getting close before an assault. It is designed to look like an innocent question or request; that is how it works. I would have been creeped out as well.
    You never said the guy was a rapist, you just said that this was an example of the type of behavior that keeps women out of the atheist movement, so….I don’t get the outrage.

  79. Rebecca,

    This is an excellent blog item. I find a lot of things I’ve heard from men around this community to be stupidly sexist. What bothers me most is that these comments from the boys seem without malicious intent but, rather, are said out of complete ignorance. Dawkins comments, though, take it all to another level of offensive and didn’t sound like the came from a typical bafoon.

    I really didn’t know much about your history until this post. SGU led me to Skepchicks and I enjoy it quite a lot. I admire so much of the things you do, write, say, etc. and I share your pain in hearing middle aged white males who do not self-identify as having any sort of disability defending actions which make you uncomfortable. I am happy, though, to hear you putting up a fight as criticizing someone like Dawkins could potentially be seen as a bad career move.

    I am not entirely certain that throwing out Dawkins’ work is a good idea. Miles Davis was a complete shit but that doesn’t make his music any less beautiful. I know a bunch of people whose work is terrific but they are real shits in their personal lives. I don’t think we ought to toss the baby out with the bathwater.

    We minorities really need you as the spokesperson for diversity in this mostly white, mostly middle aged, mostly male world.

    Happy Hacking,

  80. I get Richard’s point that the issues face by women under religious and cultural oppression do dwarf the elevator incident for the atheist community. Let us give him credit for that. But I also do also wish he would have taken Rebecca’s point more seriously.

  81. As a privileged white male, I say: PLEASE, Rebecca, Jen, and others like you: Keep on pointing at my privilege, in all its many manifestations. I may not notice it the first time but I hope I won’t be dense enough to keep denying it after repeated attempts.

  82. The strawperson massacre going on here too eh?

    Ah yes, calling a creep a creep is the same as racism…I forgot!

    Well Rebecca good luck. You’ve managed to remain rational long after I’d have snapped at the obtuse behavior on display over much of this affair.

  83. Hello Skepchick + community. I hope someone can answer this question for me because I am asking with the sincere intention of having my consciousness “raised.” I am a white male atheist honestly trying to understand this issue.

    What is sexist about a man inviting a women to his room for “a drink”? I could understand being offended if a man was repeatedly making lude remarks toward you, or touching you inappropriately, but I fail to see the great harm in a question. Can someone explain this to me?

    I won’t defend Dawkin’s surprisingly stupid comments. However, I do understand his frustration that feminists seem overly concerned about “unwanted sexual attention.” You being annoyed by one man’s clueless inability to read negative signals seems like a totally separate issue from the major problems associated with sexism around the world.

    All the explanations seem focused on the fact that these advances can make women feel uncomfortable. Granted, but I fail to see the difference between this situation and any other uncomfortable social interaction. What is so terrible and sexist about expressing attraction to someone? Can someone please explain this rationally?

    1. It’s an issue of power inequity. Moreover, because it was late and she had already expressed a desire to simply got to sleep, cornering a stranger in an elevator very late at night where she has no witnesses or escape cannot be seen as an example of good faith interaction.

    2. Think about it this way, you have a bunch of candy in the back of your car and you really don’t want it and there’s a kid who probably would. Your intentions are TOTALLY innocent and you know kids like candy, so you ask him if he wants the candy and to follow you to the car.

      You have asked a child to do something that puts him at incredible risk. He cannot know your intentions he can only respond in (hopefully) a way that will keep him safe.

      If you walk up to a women who does not know you and you ask her to do something that constitutes putting herself in a risky position and you do so in a place where no one can see you and she is confined in a small space, you may not ACTUALLY be putting her at risk but you have asked her to do something that most woman know is risky and that, regardless of outcome, is a shitty thing to do.

    3. dacjames, if none of the other explanations make sense, try this one on for size:

      If you’re interested in a person as a person, as more than a vehicle for your sexual satisfaction, there are a bunch of steps you usually take in order to go from your interest in them to expressing an interest in taking the relationship to a physical level. The first step is actually having some sort of relationship with that person. That means that you actually have to talk to them, have a real conversation, be interested in finding out what they are interested in, listening and watching for cues that you’re moving too fast or not fast enough, etc.

      That’s true even if you’re hooking up with a woman at a bar for no-strings-attached sex. You’ll have some drinks together, have a conversation, joke and flirt and all those other things. You don’t have to know someone’s life story and talk about getting married in order to establish a basic rapport with them that’s deeper than simple sexual objectification. And most important is that you do your damned best to gauge the mood of the other person and make sure you both have the same intentions before you make any sort of sexual proposition. That’s just Guy-Gal 101 stuff.

      Elevator Guy didn’t bother doing ANY of that. He sat quietly and didn’t engage RW in conversation at all, for the duration of a very long night at a bar. He waited until the end of the night where she expressed an interest in going to bed. He ignored the fact that she’s vary publicly declared her lack of interest in people hitting on her at conferences. He got her alone in an elevator and tried to condense the entire “getting to know you” phase into a couple of sentences in the short time from the lobby to her floor. If he wasn’t making a sexual proposition, he was certainly moving to a more advantageous place for it.

      All of that ignoring and disregarding and trying to shortcut the process? That’s the “sexist” part, or at least enough of it that you should be able to start to get it. Expressing interest in someone as a person isn’t sexism… ignoring all the parts that make them a person and skipping to trying to get what you want is sexism.

    4. Thanks for the responses. So it seems like the problem here is choice of venue (an elevator late at night) not the actual request, correct? I agree that this guy was being a bit creepy, but I fail to see how this has anything to do with the larger issue of sexism?

      @MissMarnie, I understand the point of your analogy, but what is the risky situation that you’re talking about? Do women view all private encounters with men as risky just because a tiny fraction of us are sexually abusive?

      To put my question another way, what would be sexist about telling a stranger, “Hello. I think you are beautiful. If you are looking for company tonight, stop by my room, number 205.”

    5. dacjames – First, the initial argument was that he was being creepy, not sexist. IMHO, most of the sexism has come from people defending Elevator Guy. Nobody’s arguing “great harm” – they’re arguing “creepy”. In context, it was “Why don’t more women attend these conferences? Guys who do *this*. Don’t be that guy.” I don’t see that as being disproportionate at all. The reaction to her statement? Boy howdy, yes.

      What separates Elevator Guy’s actions from ‘normal’ uncomfortable behavior, at least in my opinion, are his escalating behaviors:
      1. Not having talked to her before this moment, despite ample opportunities
      2. Waiting until she was in an isolated environment to make his approach
      3. Prefacing his remark with “Don’t take this the wrong way, but…” – which is a strong indication to me that he knew his behavior could be perceived as inappropriate, arguing against cluelessness
      4. Being a total stranger and having his first verbal interaction being a code for “Do you want to have sex?”
      5. Ignoring subtle verbal cues like the lecture on not being sexualized, or her saying that she was tired and wanted to go to sleep.

      Skepchick found this creepy and commented on it. Was it sexist? I’m sure that opinions will differ, but it seems to me that Elevator Guy put his desires – to proposition her without fear of public rejection, to have sex with someone who didn’t know him from Adam – above her clearly stated preferences.

      You’re presuming noble intent on the part of elevator guy, and explaining his creepiness with cluelessness. Another interpretation is that he doesn’t think that women’s desires and boundaries are as important as his desires and feelings. That is sexism, and is on a continuity with other behaviors that somehow relate to men’s feelings and desires being more important than women’s, or women not being considered fully people.

      1. Creepy: I agree. I never tried to defend Elevator Guy.

        Sexist: Not at all. Putting your personal desires above the wishes of another is selfish, not sexist. What if this had been one man propositioning another man?

        1. Well, if it had been a different situation, it would have been a different situation. It wasn’t, though. It was a man doing this to a woman.

          You realize that “what if it had been a man doing this to a man” invalidates every possible instance of sexism, right? A boss calling his secretary “sweet cheeks”, long-term and wide-spread pay disparities… if it’s men doing this to men, it can’t be sexist.

          As an aside – you are kind of defending Elevator Guy, by insisting that his actions were grounded in cluelessness and not for example sexual arousal from making women visibly uncomfortable. We don’t know his motivations, and neither did Skepchick. One of the problems with creepy behavior is other people can’t know how much creepy is in there.

        2. But it wasn’t a man propositioning another man. It was a man propositioning a woman in a rape culture society.

  84. Yes, sigh, I’ve been surprised by the amount of “let me explain why elevator guy was really just a shy awkward sad dude who now feels terrible and it’s really all about me if you think about it” I’ve been getting at my place.

    1. It really is astonishing how so many of those commenters choose to try to understand and apologize for the Elevator Guy, rather than simply listening to Rebecca and, you know, accepting what she has to say at face value. By the way, Ophelia, one really positive result of this discussion is that I discovered your blog!

      1. We have yet to hear from “elevator guy”. To assume he was intent on harm is to be disingenuous.

        Rebecca may well be telling the truth, of course, but we haven’t heard both sides of the story.

        Even if he did want to just have sex with her, he actually asked fairly politely. And, anyway, there is nothing wrong with wanting to have sex with someone. It is not objectifying them. It is perfectly natural and normal to want to have sex with someone you are attracted to.

        When a woman wants to have sex with a man, is she objectifying him?

        Even if someone wants to have sex with someone else, purely because they are physically attracted and for no other reason and is not interested in a relationship with them, what would be wrong with that?

        1. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with someone asking someone else for sex, and no one said there was. However, doing it at 4am in an enclosed elevator after the person you’re asking talked about how she DOESN’T want propositions like that? That’s crossing some boundaries into “creepy”.

          Still not “wrong” or “OMG HE’S A CRIMINAL ARREST HIM!”, just not an effective strategy- with an added bonus of being the kind of thing that keeps women away from atheist conferences and makes EVERYONE get less sexytiems. This was all Rebecca pointed out.

          1. I don’t understand the 4 am thing. If you have a phobia about meeting people at 4 am? Don’t go out in public at 4 am. Problem solved.

        2. There need not be both sides. Rebecca was creeped out. Why must we know “both sides” in order for her feelings to be valid?

          All of your other questions depend on context. Had he made his move at the bar, probably not. At a singles mixer, definitely not. After a few drinks, some laughs, and flirting, no.

          But as a complete stranger on an elevator at 4 in the morning, creepy as f^ck.

          Women are, sadly, attacked all the time. They are creeped out more often than that. It speaks volumes that instead of taking Rebecca’s advice and going with it many want “both sides” and make excuses for (by even lax standards) is creepy behavior.

          1. Would her emotions have been valid if a black man approached her and she freaked out because of his race? or if a disabled man freaked her out because she thinks disabilities are icky? Why do you think gender profiling is a valid emotional reaction if you can see eg. race profiling is not? No doubt her emotions are what they are but we need not validate them. Indeed they could be and ought to be socially unacceptable.

    2. I, for one, find the “shy and awkward” defense hollow. It isn’t like “shy and awkward” and “creepy” are mutually exclusive. In fact, in my experience they go together most of the time.

  85. I used to come here a long time ago and didn’t stick around because of the sexism.

    And I have to laugh at your “that seemed weird” comment because from the comments at PZ’s (among other places). If guys are going to take such offence at having the treat women as equals just hire some escorts to add to the women looking to hook up and call it good.

    Congrats on making the journey.

  86. Rebecca, you do important work here. I’m glad that people like you and Jen (blaghag) are willing to wear the big targets to raise these issues. Sure, there’s been a shit-storm over this, but there’s always been some fantastic discussion around it as well.

  87. It is true that religions do tend to have more sexist views embedded in them than does the non-religious community, but clearly this is something everyone in society must contend with–including atheists. Being against female genital mutilation is great and all, but that alone doesn’t make one not sexist anymore than not being a KKK member makes a person able to say they’re not racist; we should aspire to far better than that.

    I’m noticing a pattern here with the MRAs, which other people have noticed here, too: they tend to love arguing points that haven’t actually been made–in other words, they’re huge fans of straw (wo)men. All a woman has to say is, “Please be more self-conscious about when you may come across as creepy,” and suddenly I see people respond, “Are you saying it’s NEVER okay for a man to start a conversation with a woman?! You must be crazy!”

    It’s really, really odd. And informative. But mostly odd.

  88. This story has nothing to do with skepticism, its about training women from day one to be afraid of all men because one of them might be a rapist. Do you understand what effect that mentality has on men? Seriously, people wonder why there’s been a growth in timid and shy young men (forever alones) maybe it’s because large parts of society automatically label dudes like this rapists.

    When I read the first part where she explains how the situation made her uncomfortable all I could think is “…what? Someone barely talks to you in a peaceful manner and you jump to thinking this guy is going to rape you?”
    That woman really needs to take a chill pill. I have a hard time talking to girls at the bar because of stuff like this, I can handle rejection just fine but if I slightly hint that I’m attracted to a woman and all of a sudden everyone is leering at me like a sexual fiend then I just want to avoid everything to do with that.

    1. So you think the man’s feelings trump the woman’s safety and all women should implicitly trust all men and all situations because he might be a nice guy?

      You can familiarize yourself with some of the stats on sexual assault here

      Until those numbers are vastly reduced, I think it’s reasonable for women to err on the side of caution.

      1. Those statistics show that sexual assault is still extremely rare when compared to the amount on consensual sex. 213,000 sexual assaults versus about about 18.7 billion instances of consensual sex means sexual assault occurs in only .001% of cases. The 18.7 billion number comes from the following: (population of US)/2 * 121 (average number of times a person 18-29 has sex source:Kinsey Institute).

        Sexual assault is a serious issue that effects a lot of women and often goes unreported, but it’s still an extremely rare occurrence, especially with strangers. Basing our cultural rules (or your habits) around this anomaly seems irrational to me.

        1. While I agree that women shouldn’t have to live their lives in fear, that doesn’t change the sociological realities that we are expected to. If we fail to do so, take enough precautions, make ourselves “safe,” dress the right way, have the right kind/amount of sex, etc. we are blamed for our own assaults. Our rapists are allowed escape any consequences for their actions because we weren’t “careful enough.”

          Nevermind that even if we do all the right things (which according to some police department safety “guidelines” include not riding in an elevator with a man we don’t know!) we still have a high probability of rape and assault from someone we know and trust. The arguments of “prevention” always center on seeming like reasonable rather than extreme precautions to avoid an unpleasant result (i.e. rape). However, what these pieces of advice actually do is severely limit the choices, freedoms and dignity of women by tightening the confines within which we are allowed to operate. They create a framework of fear that we should live our lives in to avoid the unlikely event of a stranger rape.

          So yes, it would be great if women didn’t have to fear men they didn’t know as potential rapists. But that’s not the reality of the lives we live every single day.

        2. Ok, firstly, that’s like saying that you only end up in car crashes .1% of the time you drive so don’t worry about wearing a seat belt. Just because you are more likely to have consensual than non-consensual sex, doesn’t mean that you can be unconcerned with avoiding dangerous sexual situations. Isn’t it possible that women being cautious also helps to reduce those rates of assault?

          But if the continually climbing birthrate and sales rates of contraceptives are any indicator, there are loads of women having plenty of sex, whether in long term relationships or one night stands. If your goal is consensual sex then your first step should be to make the person feel, you know, like she has the chance to consent. I guess I don’t understand why you would be opposed to putting another person at ease if you are interested.

      2. Yes. You women are sexist when you gender profile men as “potential rapists”. You don’t get to justify your prejudices by pretending they have anything to do with safety any more than Arizona gets to pretend it really just wants to control immigration.

        1. Exactly, it’s like saying it’s Ok for someone to be afraid that black people will beat them up.

          This fear is illogical and irrational and we should not be letting it slide.

    2. You left out a lot of the backstory. 4am, elevator, events leading up to the encounter.

      Read all the comments on this blog, and then those at Blag Hag, and then those at the other blogs linked on top of this page, and then read them again.

      You’ll get it eventually. I did.

    3. It’s not a zero-sum game, brenan6. Empowering women and encouraging them to speak their minds by not shaming them into silence does not automatically result in legions of timid men. The journey to self confidence is something that everyone must take–I think you’ll find, if you try, that it is possible to express interest in someone in a non-creepy way.

    4. It isn’t women who’ve set off this (in most cases, very reasonable) attitude about safety. It’s the men who have, for centuries, molested, assaulted, attacked, and raped them. People quibble about statistics – and they’re hard to know for sure, because most sexual assaults and rapes are unreported – but a conservative estimate is that 1 in every ten women has faced sexual assault, attempted rape, or rape.

      Read the article “Schrodinger’s Rapist” (it’s been linked by PZ and many others) if you fail to understand the point of view many women share on this topic. Several guides for avoiding potential attackers specifically list elevators as places you should not enter with a strange man. Worse still, even getting to know someone better is no indicator of whether he’s capable of rape – most rapists are at least acquainted with their victims and use alcohol or vulnerable situations (like being trapped somewhere!) to make them more helpless.

      I doubt that Rebecca would have posted or said anything had this guy made his overture in the late afternoon, in a public place. But instead he asked her while completely alone with her in an elevator at 4 am, and she (reasonably) was a little creeped out/scared/worried during the few minutes it took to find out that she could get back to her room (on a probably very deserted floor, given the time of night) safely. I would have felt the same way.

      Is asking men to please not do this so unreasonable? There are still thousands of appropriate times and places to flirt with women or ask them on dates – or even for casual sex, in the right environment. Is it so limiting to take a few factors into account in order to not frighten or creep out the women you’re interested in? It would not only save women from what can feel like close-call situations, it would save some men from having their advances rejected, I’m positive.

      1. Sexist tripe calling all men rapists. Can feminists make any argument without this filth?

        1. DavidByron, your comments are quickly approaching troll-spam. I suggest you calm down, stop repeating yourself, and stop repeating every stupid claim that has thus been made (eg, “what if he was black!!!!”)

    5. I am a straight man who is confident of the fact that I’m not a rapist, and am glad to receive advice on how to avoid being thought of as one.

      And this : “Seriously, people wonder why there’s been a growth in timid and shy young men (forever alones) maybe it’s because large parts of society automatically label dudes like this rapists.
      When I read the first part where she explains how the situation made her uncomfortable all I could think is ‘…what? Someone barely talks to you in a peaceful manner and you jump to thinking this guy is going to rape you?’”

      You have just put forth a ridiculous piece of conjecture without evidence, ignored the relevant facts of Rebecca’s anecdote (4 AM, enclosed space, previously expressed desire to go to sleep). And she’s the one rejecting skeptical thinking?

    6. Excuse me? What?

      I am one of those “forever alone” types.

      It’s not anything to do with feminism. At all. I was poorly socialized like many of the geeks of my age. I’m just not accustomed to getting along in such a way that I can attract someone.

      Has Feminism directed a few things? Sure. I try to recognize when I fuck up and go to lengths to make amends(unless they don’t want to hear it; then I figure at least I’ve done due diligence on my part). I try to figure out when they’re just not interested in me before even starting the sell.

      What’s keeping me from succeeding though isn’t worrying that I’m a rapist, it’s that I’m awkward and geeky.

      But I don’t blame feminism for that.

      Sure, I think about it when I approach a woman or a guy, but it doesn’t drive every thought in my head on this matter.

      Please don’t speak for me and my kind. Ever again. Thanks.

    7. At the risk of sounding dismissive, Brenan, man up. It’s not Rebecca’s or society’s or anyone else’s fault that you have trouble talking to women.

      Treat women as equals, affording them the respect and courtesy they are due, and they won’t treat you like a creep. It’s as easy as that.

      1. Women’s emotions? Awww soooo important. Men’s emotions? Shut up, you wimp!

    8. Before I got married I talked to women all the time and never had them look at me like I was a creep. If you are getting this response, rethink your behavior.

      In my bar hopping days it was so easy to get laid by accident I still have a hard time fathoming all the “hardship” men are going through in order to meet and/or hook up with women.

  89. As someone who has (to some extent, successfully) been explaining this last incident to others in the comments on a few blogs, I sympathize with many of your feelings.

    Many, many atheist/skeptical men (and some women) seem to have extreme gut-reactions to requests that men stop doing X to women or saying X to women, and those reactions rarely include trying to fully understand the feelings and reasoning involved.

    It seems to me like the essence of being reasonable or skeptical is to first seek to understand a claim/topic and *then* examine it and come to conclusions. If the clueless commenters (like Dawkins, in this case) treated all subject matter the way they treat the concerns of women in the atheist movement, then I doubt they’d be able to make it through most college courses, let alone convincingly adopt labels like “rational” or “skeptical.”

    Maybe enough incidents, enough explanations, or enough time will finally be enough to make more people reconsider their reactions to the concerns of women, but when it comes to these fellow atheists, I’m not holding my breath.

  90. Honestly, Dawkin’s response doesn’t surprise me at all. I’ve never liked his attitude and think he is incredibly harsh even to fellow skeptics/atheists.

    I subscribe to Wil Wheaton’s philosophy- “Don’t be a dick”. It’s allowed me to voice my options and talk with religious folks without coming off as militant and confrontational (two problems I think Dawkins suffers from). I’ll take a wild stab into the dark here, but I think I’ve probably made more friends/had more calm, thoughtful discussions than he has.

    There are times to scream (in a logical manner of course): vaccine debate, homeopathy, and women’s rights. So needless to say, my blood is boiled right now.

    I’ll be sharing this story and encouraging others to do so.

  91. Hi there!

    As something of a fine craftsman of bad analogies, I find that the whole “imagine being on an elevator with: [a man holding a gun/scary Black man]” analogies come off as a little weak.

    I think that a much more cogent analogy would be to imagine getting on an elevator and seeing a 6’4″, muscular leatherman complete with assless chaps, handlebar mustache, and whatever they call that harness-looking thing with the steel ring in the middle. (Like Martian Manhunter wears) You’re a heterosexual guy, it’s 4am, and he asks you back to his room for coffee. What are you afraid of, it’s just coffee, right? What, you think that JUST because he’s obviously a gay leatherman you somehow can’t TRUST him? He’s just asking you for coffee, you insecure prude.

    After politely refusing him, you go back and blog about how you were just a little creeped about by this, and next thing you know, you’ve got a respected scientist calling you a whiny Westboro-scale homophobe for being a tiny bit creeped out by the big scary gay man.

    And yes, I’m sure that there will be heterosexual men who will respond that they get cornered in elevators by guys in assless chaps all the TIME, and consider it the highest level of compliment, and don’t get even a little nervous. But this is the best bad analogy I can come up with. :(

    — Craig

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

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

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

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

      1. Which of course would naturally lead to a huge debate about whether it’s OK to complain about any rude behavior by religious people or whether atheists should just shut up and be nice and diplomatic, as well as hundreds of comments from religious people saying “but I’M not like that. It’s not fair to say that some religious people do bad things in the name of religion or that it’s creepy to proselytize aggressively, because that makes ME feel personally insulted!”

  92. Despite all the BS now hung around this topic it’s incredibly simple. As a guy who likes women if the very first words you ever speak to a woman are in an elevator at 4am when you’ve just heard the woman say she’s drunk/tired and going to bed are ‘come to my room for coffee’ you’re being a creep. I don’t think anybody would have cared if the guy had introduced himself at the bar, or had even said hello in the elevator, perhaps mentioned he enjoyed the talk – but no, he asks someone back to his room to stay awake with no prior interaction.

    It’s just sad, desperate, clumsy, rude and also likely to cause intimidation.

    Cmon this really isn’t rocket science. Nobody has at any point dismissed the possibility of sex, even casual sex in hotels is fine for many of us, just have a minor bit of empathy and manners.

  93. I was surprised to see Dawkins comment on this. Rebecca’s video response to the elevator incident was appropriate, and PZ’s blog post was more about the back and forth that occurred as an effect of Rebecca’s post.

    But Dawkins felt compelled to leave a comment on PZ’s blog about this. And by sarcastically contrasting Rebecca’s experience to the plight of Muslim women, he is essentially DEFENDING the elevator guy’s behavior, saying it was not at all bad.

    I think the real point to take away from Dawkins’ involvement in this issue is that the only thing he felt compelled to contribute was a statement DEFENDING the behavior of the elevator guy. If he really cares deeply about the plight of Muslim women, why wasn’t he off doing something about it, as opposed to belittling Rebecca?

    At the moment he’s busy dressing up as Marty McFly from Back to the Future III. (http://richarddawkins.net/articles/642037-richard-dawkins-celebrates-4th-of-july-in-jackson-hole-wyoming)

  94. I, too, am dismayed by Dawkins’s response, not only because of its dismissive nature but also because of the clear false equivalence he put forward. It’s a sensationalistic debate practice (“how can you complain about THIS when THAT is so much worse?!?”) that I thought he was above. Strange.

    But I am reminded of an incident from my own experience that I will take as a possible parable here. About a year ago, my roommate had to use the state labor relations board to press her former employer for withheld pay, and I helped her out. My roommate had a reasonable job (PR firm), but her boss was cheap and money-grubbing, so the company probably cheated her out of $1500-2000. Now, these labor boards see the worst cases of abuse — stealing wages, work without pay, hazardous conditions, unjust termination, and more terrible things than I can rattle off, I’m sure. To them, my roommate’s case probably seemed like privileged whining. Just LOOK AT HOW BAD some others here have it! They gave it short shrift, but did issue a half-half ruling eventually.

    My point is, perhaps Dawkins has spent so much time worrying about the effect of religion on the downtrodden and impoverished that he gives short shrift to the genuine issues women have all over the world, including in the skeptical community itself. Just LOOK AT HOW BAD some people have it. Of course, that argument is rarely justified and must be considered carefully. In this case, he’s wrong. I hope he will realize it sooner than later.

  95. Hi, first-time commenter here, but I’ve been deep in the discussions in a few other places so I can at least address where the rape talk came from. Initially it was all about the fact that the whole elevator situation was a bit unsettling. But then guys kept asking why and saying they didn’t understand why this situation was at all unusual, and the more they repeated the question the explanations went from “because it’s threatening” to “it’s threatening because we’re taught not to go into elevators with strange men at night” to “because sometimes bad things happen when women are alone with strange men in inescapable places” to giving rape statistics and talking about how women are taught to always be wary and on their guard as a way of rape avoidance because it is so common. And for some reason, there were a lot of people who continually insisted on reading those explanations as a declaration that women go around thinking that all men are rapists. Nobody ever accused the guy in the elevator of being a rapist, or that Rebecca assumed that he was one, besides the people who were disingenuously misrepresenting what other people had said.

    Also, Rebecca, you’re fantastic.

  96. Hi Rebecca,

    I’m honestly — and I emphasize honestly — curious about some more details regarding this incident.

    PZ accused the man who confronted you in the elevator of not being a “decent human being”, said that he harassed you, and accused him of “loutish behavior”. Others, both in the comment sections on Pharyngula and in other blogs, have accused him of much worse.

    I’m curious if you feel that this is appropriate characterization of the man that spoke to you in the elevator.

    I’m curious because my intial reaction, upon hearing your story, was quite the opposite. Here’s why.

    I have mild social anxiety, and I’ve always self-identified as an introvert. It caused me untold difficulties as a child and as a teen; as an adult, I’m much more comfortable in my own skin. It was with this background, then, that my assumption upon hearing your story, was that the man in the elevator probably spent all night trying to muster up the courage to talk to you, and just happened to choose a particularly bad spot to finally find it. It’s difficult to work up that courage anyway, and especially so in a group setting. So, I can imagine him waiting for the right time, never finding it, and then thinking that a good chance to speak to you one-on-one was in that elevator. And perhaps alcohol impaired his judgment.

    I imagined that because I can imagine myself doing the same thing. And having imagined myself doing that, even though I’d recognize it as a mistake almost immediately, I’d be mortified and angry and confused at being labeled a lout, a harasser and an indecent human being for such an honest mistake.

    But, I later realized that it’s possible I’m just imagining that as the scenario. The man in the elevator might not be a socially-inept but benign guy; he could have just as easily been a rude jerk who knowingly took advantage of a woman in a vulnerable situation.

    That’s why I was baffled when, initially, the comments — especially from PZ — were so quick to excoriate the elevator man (although I note that you were *not* one of the people who attacked him, and I think your comments in the initial video were perfect in tone and message). I can see how someone who naturally assumed the opposite — that the man knowingly took advantage of a woman in a vulnerable situation — might have had the opposite initial reaction.

    That is, I think, the crux of the problem. Some people are empathizing with what they perceive to be the man in the elevator — awkward, unsure and (probably unbeknownst to himself) creepy, but wholly benign. And others are empathizing with what they perceive you to have been — threatened and made uncomfortable. But no one can correctly perceive the situation, because none of us were there, and no one has the full details.

    So, was it a poorly thought-out but well-intentioned expression of interest, or was it a creepy, threatening proposition in an elevator?

    I suspect it might have been both. I suspect that the man in the elevator (perhaps too inebriated to be thinking clearly), made what he thought was an innocuous proposition, and perhaps you, quite naturally from your perspective and past, interpreted the proposition as at best rude, or even threatening.

    Of course, my opinion on the matter is irrelevant.

    Out of everyone that has weighed in on this, only you (and the man from the elevator) have anything worthwhile to say on that question.

    To reiterate, I thought the comments you made in your initial video were perfect in tone and message. But almost everything that has followed (from PZ, from Phil Plait, from Jen McCreight, and certainly from commenters) has been a disaster, and I think it’s in large part because people are lacking in perspective. It’s all to easy to see things from only one perspective, and be totally unable to comprehend the other side.

    I don’t think most people is maliciously or willfully ignoring your concerns, or vice versa — I just think they’re caught up in their own interpretation of the event. (Of course, some people are using this incident to further their own agenda, but I don’t think that’s the majority).

    As an aside, thanks for reading this far, if you’ve made it here.

    In the end, I hope you don’t forever put Dawkins on your life’s ignore list, and I hope he in turn realizes that you have and had a valid point to make. It’s distressing to see so much vitriol and anger within the ranks of atheists, skeptics and freethinkers.

    Thanks much for being a voice for skepticism and atheism, and for pushing past all of the ugliness you have to endure.

    1. Overall, this is the best take on the whole thing that I have seen and matches perfectly my own thinking. Above all, Rebecca was THERE.

    2. Good post!

      And as far as your comment about it possibly being both and innocuous pass and threatening creepy behavior, it very probably was. And that is the point.

      He may not have intended to be creepy, but he was. Hence it being a good thing for Rebecca to mention it after the fact. To say something at the time may have made a bad situation worse, but pointing it out later gives many who would consider doing the same thing an opportunity to learn a lesson and skip the rejection.

      Truly a win-win, but the mansplaining starts and it is her fault and I can’t get laid because of feminism and there are women worse off and why should anyone worry about this and blah blah blah. Quelle drag.

  97. I’ve learned a great deal the past couple of days, about both womens’ plight in the world and how even the men who aren’t mouth-foaming misogynists make it worse.

    If nothing else comes of this debacle, you can at least say it brought attention to the attitudes and behaviors that make life difficult for women to previously utterly clueless men such as myself.

    To quote a character from an action video series my friends are working on: “Stand up; on your knees, nothing changes.”

    1. And I’m glad to hear that people have learned from this giant mess. It’s nice to have people not normally involved in feminist causes involved and thinking about where we still need to go.

      The important thing to remember about being involved and speaking out is that it’s not just malicious sexist assholes that perpetuate the status of inequality that we call the patriarchy/kyriarchy, but simple daily things that all of us, men and women both, allow to slide that keep true equality from gaining traction.

  98. I’m glad such a strong person is speaking out about feminism and this long series of unfortunate events. I was surprised to read what Dawkins wrote, but I’ve never really heard him speak on such topics. It’s a shame he hasn’t broken out of his childhood indoctrination with all of his brain power.

  99. I’d guestimate that this topic is getting around one comment per minute, currently. Although I’m disappointed by Dawkins and McGraw’s stance, I am strongly embiggened to see such passion about such an imporant issue.

    1. Yes, that’s true. If nothing else, at least there’s probably a whole bunch of people who *may* be reconsidering previously held [misogynistic] convictions. One can only hope.

  100. Sorry – guys saying women being cautious are the reason for shyness and timidity in men is laughable bullshit.

    I talk to girls in bars and hook up no problem. The elevator guy routine is more akin to driving up to a girl outside a club, winding down the window and asking her to get in the back seat. It’s a dick move. Don’t do it.

    At no point has anybody told men sex is outlawed or all men are rapists. It’s simply a fact that women are sexually assaulted and objectified more than men. Women have to be cautious and men can be aware of themselves and their actions.

    Again self awareness is not rocket science.

    1. “Sorry – guys saying women being cautious are the reason for shyness and timidity in men is laughable bullshit.
      I talk to girls in bars and hook up no problem.”

      Ok… thats you. Are you so focused on yourself that you cant possibly see how another person would feel (the exact purpose of this article)

      1. Nope. Total fail.

        Seriously, that post is so off base it isn’t even wrong.

        1. If someone is blaming Women for poor timid men being unable to get a date, then yeah, it is.

    2. In fact men are assaulted at a much higher rate than women are. Women just bitch and whine about it more, despite being the safest demographic. This is a typical pattern of privilege. As the more privileged sex women complain more, but their complaints are petty in nature. Similarly white people are more likely to complain than black, rich more likely to complain than poor.

  101. First, I must say I admire your site and respect what you have to say. But on this one issue, we will diverge. By your own account, the man was polite, not aggressive, or insistent. The worst you could say was that he was “creepy” whatever that means to you.

    You only see this from your own perspective. I expected more from you. Consider that this person considered you attractive and hoped to get to know you better. Also, he may have been socially unskilled, or awkward and inexperienced. But, by your own words, he did not come across as crass or threatening.

    Rebecca, you overreacted and came across as a “feminazi” to borrow a term from the Limburgher man.

    Next time, accept as a compliment that someone would like to at least have an opportunity with you and does it in a polite, non-threatening manner.

    To your credit, you politely declined, but then you publicly trashed a stranger who had done you no harm.

    That has not done your image any good with me and others.

    Then you continue to trash Richard Dawkins for speaking his mind. Apparently you can approve of him until he says one thing that you don’t like. Then you are finished with him forever. That really sounds like a theist response instead of one from an open-minded, reasonable atheist.

    Should everyone that doesn’t exactly agree with you on this issue revile you in public and dismiss everything else you have done or will do? That seems to be your approach so you are giving everyone else permission to treat you the same way.

    1. James, you’re being the poster boy for Not Getting It. Go read the 3000+ comments at Pharyngula on this, or at Ophelia’s website. What you just wrote was echoed by dozens of other people, and resoundingly refuted by 10 times that many. And actually watching the video before commenting on it might be a good way to ease in to that task.

    2. God, yes. A skeptic grows in strength by considering alternate view points. Someone who reacts to a former ally having the very slightest disagreement with a banishment / call to boycott is the exact opposite of a skeptic. They are deeply dogmatic.

  102. Rebecca,

    Your writing-off of MGM because FGM is really really bad, made me angry. In fact it was extremely similar to Richard Dawkins’ argument against your offense at being asked for coffee in an elevator in the middle of the night.

    “Something else is worse, so STFU!”

    To boycott Dawkins for being insensitive to you or the concerns of female atheists, seems really hypocritical. He’s still a brilliant man, who writes great books. But you’re both human, and you both get things wrong. I think he should apologize. But I don’t need that before I enjoy him for what he’s good at.

    Similarly, I wouldn’t boycott you because of one offensive opinion or insensitivity. If I did, I wouldn’t write you now. And I would have missed out on many of your great talks.

    And more so, I wouldn’t threaten violence/rape over it, either, no matter how furious I felt. I’m horrified that others would, and I sincerely hope that people who would make those kinds of threats are in the minority. (Though that obviously doesn’t make it right.)

    As an adult male, I’ve lost of interest in atheist meet-ups, because they were overwhelmingly male. And that’s not because I want to hit on anyone.

    During one occasion, there was an atheist meet-up in a coffee shop where a Religious group was present in an adjacent room. The all male atheists claimed that religious women are more subservient. That may be true. But they had expressions of shame when I pointed out that their meet-up (in that case) has no women at all.

    This is obviously a problem within the so-called movement, and I’m glad that a discussion is taking place. I’m also glad that you’re making noise, and provoking more people to talk about these issues.

    Note: (Hitting on people is not something I generally do no matter whatever the occasion. Unless you hit me over the head with interest, I generally assume you’re not interested.)

    1. Please don’t come to my blog and lie, because it’s really not worth your effort. I never – NEVER – “wrote off” MGM. I said I disagreed with it. I feel it should be illegal. Do not misrepresent my position on my own god damn site.

    2. The MGM/FGM issue isn’t really comparable. Rebecca acknowledged that genital mutilation is bad, regardless of the sex of the child. That’s not what Dawkins did. He didn’t acknowledge her at all: he explicitly said that Rebecca had absolutely no reason to complain, that the elevator pickup was a “zero bad” issue. Shut up and go away, basically.

  103. James,

    Essentially what you are saying is that Rebecca must be okay with and accept any man who wants to approach her at any time, if even just to ‘compliment her’. I hope you see the issue with this.

    She did not say the man was a horrible serial rapist pedophile anti-Semitic puppy-kicker, she simply said that his behavior made her uncomfortable and that men should be more mindful of when their behavior is inappropriate.

    It was also never stated that people couldn’t rebuke her points — is that not what you’re doing now? Is that not what Richard Dawkins did? She is by no means censoring those who disagree, and yet you are essentially saying she has no right to speak out against the criticism she’s faced. It simply doesn’t make sense.

  104. I haven’t read all the comments, and I’m sure this has been said but I felt I had to register and repeat it. I’m a huge Dawkins fan, and that note just turned my stomach upside down. It’s disappointing when one of your idols turns out to be a giant ass. At least I’ve got someone to replace him with. Thanks Rebecca, been a big fan of you on SGU and I’ll be sure to add skepchick to my blogroll.

    I haven’t been to any conferences or even know many atheists/skeptics personally. I’m just a person on the sidelines, but I appreciate your work. Thanks!

  105. All of this discussion is because RD threw down a massive strawman – because, Rebecca, nowhere did your narrative about the events come across in the manner he portrayed them. That is the first thing he should recognize. The second thing he needs to understand is that this backlash is real and is not because people are just trying to be PC. This discussion is about sexual harassment, misogyny, and sexism. And a good example of sexism is throwing down massive strawmen to belittle the experience of women (or a woman in this case). Keep fighting the good fight Rebecca!

  106. Daviddavid – you really aren’t getting this empathy thing are you?

  107. I normally hate to make “me too” posts, but I want to at least add my support. I hope you are able and willing to keep up your good work.

  108. On twitter, Rebecca, you retweeted the following exchange:

    AnElectricMonk: yes Dawkins could have handled his comment better. But compare his books and ideas to yours. Dawkins wins. undeserved vitriol

    tkingdoll: Oh I totally never thought of that. Yeah, Dawkins wins. You should get back in your elevator.

    Thing is (please hear me out here), AnElectricMonk is right. Not, I think, in the sense he intended, but in the sense that Dawkins has a voice that reaches well beyond the skeptic and atheist communities and into the world at large. His books didn’t become bestsellers because skeptics bought them, they did so because the rest of the world bought them. He’s the one invited to public debates broadcast to millions. He’s the one invited to appear on O’Reilly.

    Over the past week or so, as I’ve been following all this, I’ve worried that our community can’t afford to be split. This piece is very powerful, and you’ve done a good job of convincing me (and I hope others) that Dawkins and many others of his generation do indeed represent the past, and that perhaps we’ve reached a point where we can’t afford NOT to be split.

    You’ve drawn a pretty clear line in the sand here, with Dawkins and others standing on the “past” side of it. The problem is, unless we’re all going to fade back into obscurity as an ignored minority, we’re going to need people LIKE Dawkins – in terms of their ability to reach the public at large – to stand on the “future” side of that line. The younger part of the community seems to rely almost entirely on the web, and skeptical conferences – neither of which has much reach at all outside the self-selected audience. Who is going to write the bestsellers? Who is going to appear on the old media that, much as we on the web may pretend otherwise, still reaches a far broader audience than blogs and social media? Who is going to capture newspaper headlines that will be seen in checkout stands and vending machines by non-skeptics as they go about their daily business?

    I’m not saying we need Dawkins for these things. I’m saying we need SOMEBODY (preferably a number of somebodies) with the resources, time, eloquence and charisma to fill the role he, and a few others like him, currently fill.

    1. And I’m telling you we have those people. PZ Myers, for example.
      I refuse to support people who do not believe I have a right to speak out for myself and other women, regardless of whether or not ‘the movement’ benefits. The movement can burn if it gladly accepts and apologizes for sexism.

      1. I really appreciate how PZ Myers brings up issues of sexism and writes about them. Also, I agree with you that we can’t sacrifice equal rights for “the movement”; there’s no reason why we can’t criticize religion and also hold our own group(s) accountable for sexism within them.

      2. PZ may become such a person. You may well become such a person. And by no means am I trying to say that you (or anyone) should continue to support Dawkins in the meantime (I’m sorry if it seemed that I was, that was not at all my intent).

        I’m not saying “we have nobody else to fill that role, so we’re stuck with him.” I’m saying, “we’d better, as a community, start having a serious conversation about the people who are going to fill that role, and how we can make it happen.” Because it isn’t just going to happen on its own. Organizing these communities is like herding cats, and it’s going to take organization and a lot of people in the community to make it possible for PZ and/or you and/or whoever is willing and able to fill this role to do the things that other people have the fame and money to do with their own resources.

      3. I have only just recently realised I am a skeptic but if the movement *needs* people like Dawkins then I am out.

        1. Not like him as in similar to him, particularly given recent events. Like him as in able to do what he does – communicate effectively to large numbers of people outside the skeptical and atheist communities.

          It’s obviously important for us to communicate within the communities (and clearly this has all shown that we need to get a hell of a lot better at listening). But if that’s all we do – and if the old perspective that Dawkins represents continues to be the main one presented to the rest of the world – we’re not going to see much change.

      4. “I refuse to support people who do not believe I have a right to speak out for myself and other women, regardless of whether or not ‘the movement’ benefits. The movement can burn if it gladly accepts and apologizes for sexism.” (Rebecca Watson)

        Hear hear, Rebecca. I’d already been feeling unexpectedly frustrated by the sheer ugliness of so many of the comments here and on the other blogs in the last few days, and was planning to put together some kind of statement on my own (recently started) secular humanist blog. Then Richard stepped in, identity confirmed, and I felt absolutely drained of will. Despite some of the valuable and laudable things that were said by PZ, Phil and Hemant, among many others, I found myself almost literally stunned by the blank compassionless pervasiveness of it all, and I am far from naive when it comes to misogyny and male privilege. My wife and I had a long talk about it, which clarified my perspective without lifting my spirits much.

        But here you are again, and others like you or becoming so, already beating back the accusations of distracting and dividing “the movement,” as have so many who have worked so hard to “raise the consciousness” (as Richard is fond of saying in his own feminism/atheism parallels) of so many other movements. A humanism that denies anyone her full humanity is one I want no part of. You’ve reminded and reassured me that we need not settle for that, and that “the movement” — the one actually worth giving a damn about — is in good hands.

        I’m going to let this comment stand as my own statement over at EffectualAgents.wordpress.com. Thanks for giving me a reason to say it.

      5. Woah! Considering your forcible reaction to (allegedly) being mischaracterised above, you sure don’t mind mischaracterising others.

    2. Look, Dawkins isn’t going anywhere. If Rebecca were passing around a petition trying to get Dawkins banned from events or calling for a boycott of his books, I would be opposed to that. But she is merely saying that she is going to stop buying his books, attending his lectures.

      Is that going to prevent O’Reilly from having him on his show to shout at? No. Rebecca Watson is not dividing the movement.

      1. I realize he’s not going anywhere. But if the “old guard” voices remain the go-to sources for the media and the main presences on the bookshelves, without serious new alternatives, it doesn’t seem to me as if much changes.

        Perhaps most people are OK with that, and in a couple weeks everything is business as usual, except that the Dawkins Foundation has a few less monthly checks.

    3. I don’t think the idea that having a single Dawkins figure we must all line up behind is good for the movement. What I’ve started to see recently that’s given me some hope is that a greater plurality of strong voices is emerging. No one of them could be said to speak for the entire atheist community, but that also means that when outsiders point at atheism and say “this guy is what it means to be atheist” I can say, proudly and truthfully, that it is just one way to be an atheist and that there are others.

      I do acknowledge that part of this is due to work by Dawkins and others like him. He’s been extremely important in terms of helping foster an atmosphere where people feel much more open to declare themselves as atheists, for example. He’s not how I came to atheism, though, and he doesn’t define the entire movement for me.

  109. I’m a habitual lurker but I’ll come out just this once to say thank you, Rebecca!

  110. Really wish I was going to TAM now. This one looks like it’s gonna be extra fun with the Great Elevator Wars.
    That said, throw my name on any letter or petition to Dawkins you like. Am still in shock over his comments and don’t think I’ll be recovering from it anytime soon.

  111. “I am a feminist, because skeptics and atheists made me one. Every time I mention, however delicately, a possible issue of misogyny or objectification in our community, the response I get shows me that the problem is much worse than I thought, and so I grow angrier. I knew that eventually I would reach a sort of feminist singularity where I would explode and in my place would rise some kind of Captain Planet-type superhero but for feminists. I believe that day has nearly arrived.”

    Rebecca, I really appreciate that you do not hesitate to point out sexism in a group that you yourself are part of. It’s easy to point out what other groups are doing wrong, but more difficult when you’re criticizing people who are members of your own group. I’ve never been to an atheist convention, but I wish I had your courage to talk about feminism so openly despite the criticism and even hate that you face. (The parts about people wishing horrible things would happen to you are particularly disturbing, especially considering that one of the things that atheists regularly criticize religious people for is wishing that their enemies will be punished horribly by God.) I hope that your efforts are successful in gaining equality.

    I’m fortunate in my life (living in the US, middle-class) but having grown up in a Muslim family (even one like mine that was not extreme) I’ve always thought that feminism was necessary, given the discriminatory attitudes that I heard, especially in Sunday school and from family friends who are more conservatively religious. Whenever someone would try to claim that feminism is no longer needed, I would feel like telling them that not everyone is as fortunate as they are, not everyone grew up in the same kind of family or community they did.

    As Jen wrote above, I’m not quite ready to give up on Dawkins or stop reading his books (since if I didn’t read books by people I disagree with, I wouldn’t read anything at all) but he has lost a significant measure of respect.

  112. Dacjames – you may need a statistics refresher since you just conflated wholly incompatible figures.

  113. I’ve said it in a prior post and I’ll say it again, thank you for posting about this Rebecca. If not for your recount of EG and request that men consider try to respect women, I’d never have seen the shockingly high numbers of posters excusing the sexism and dismissing the concerns of women. It saddened and appalled me at first, then infuriated me. Now I feel more aware and empowered to push for my rights as a woman.

  114. Rebecca, you’re an awesome person. We’ve already got more than enough Richard Dawkinses, but what we really need is a couple dozen more like you!

    What makes this blowup so frustrating to me is that the atheist movement and the feminist movement have so much to gain from working together. We both want to fight oppressive, patriarchal religious traditions that deny basic rights to humankind in general and women especially. The more success that one movement enjoys, the more the other is likely to benefit as well. We have every reason in the world to pool our resources and learn from each other. And yet, there’s a thick and ugly streak of sexism in the atheist community that surfaces every time women ask for the equal rights and equal consideration that are no more than their due. I still believe this can be overcome, but it’s not going to be easy. Nevertheless, I want to be part of the solution, and if there are sides here, I count myself firmly on yours.

    What makes this all the more baffling, and disappointing, is that Richard Dawkins should have been one of the people who gets it. He’s the one who’s written so eloquently about the importance of consciousness-raising, about carefully choosing our language even in something so simple as “child of Christian parents” rather than “Christian child”. And yet, somehow, he’s completely fallen down on the job when it comes to sexism and male privilege. It reminds me of Thomas Jefferson writing that “the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred”, while at the same time owning slaves. How can a person who’s done so much good in other respects not see the glaring contradiction in his own words?

  115. My first comment ever on Skepchick to say how sad I am that someone as brilliant as Dawkins is having such a bad mental block on this topic. I don’t think I’m ready yet to renounce buying his books, but this is really something I wouldn’t have expected from him.

  116. I became and atheist over a long period of time during which I did not think I needed to be an atheist because I was already a non-believer. Wasn’t non-belief enough? Why did I need a more disciplined approach to this non-belief? I think you all know why.

    I became a feminist over a long period of time during which I did not think I needed to be a feminist because I already respected women. Wasn’t it enough that I liked and respected women? I think you know why a language to describe the differences between how men are viewed and treated is needed.

    Us old white guys really need to see our own privilege and observe how it plays out as we interact with others. We can’t simply make privilege go away at the snap of a finger, but we can support those who work at eroding it. I try.

  117. It was really awesome meeting everyone during SkepchickCon (and to help out at the party) and count me in as another “heck yeah”, “keep fighting the good fight”, and other assorted positive phrases and such! We need voices like yours to point out the privilege over and over and frickin’ over again.

    1. Niki! Jamie and I were just talking about you, we’d like to friend you on Facebook if you’re on there. Hit the “contact us” at the top of the page to send an email, or if you’re on twitter, feel free to DM me & Jamie (Amandable and UAJamie respectively)

  118. Ok read about this over on Phil Plait’s site then came here and did some reading and registered.
    The Verdict?
    Yeah the dude was creepy (or clueless, which I doubt), and you have every right to feel exactly as you did.
    First of all, this guy JUST met you. If he wanted to have coffee and a chat, you do that in a public place, not ask someone to come up to your hotel room. What woman in her right mind would GO to the hotel room, unless they too were looking for something different? That is an odd thing to ask in an enclosed elevator to a total stranger, and you are perfectly justfied in feeling the way you do.
    As for Dawkins, well everyone is entitled to their opinion…

  119. Rebecca, I came across this story of the elevator man on Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy site. I am actually shocked at some of the comments dismissing your experience/feelings, and totally supporting Dawkins. I have never been a fan of Dawkins. Yes, he is intelligent, but IMHO he comes across as boorish and ignorant. In this case, he was wrong, wrong, wrong! You have nothing to apologize for, keep speaking up.

  120. It’s sad to hear that someone I very recently looked up to has been so callous regarding the issue at hand. I’m on the fence on how to proceed RE: the Dawkins Dilemma, but he certainly has some ‘splainin’ to do.
    also, the vast overwhelming majority of the people who make these “i don’t get it: he just hit on her, he didn’t try to rape her or anything…” comments are missing the greater point: if a woman feels unsafe, it’s not up to the people around her to say whether or not she should or should not feel safe or unsafe, it’s completely and totally 100% up to her. also, the smaller point: Rebecca never said he was a rapist or toucher or anything like that: she said he was a bonehead who missed the point after she had just said she didn’t want to be hit on etc.
    Emphasis on Feminism and Women’s Rights is incredibly important in this community, because who else is going to talk about it? Feminism as an ideal is absolutely necessary for the advancement of humanity, there’s no two ways about it. if you believe nonsensical, dark age ideas about women, you cannot truly call yourself a freethinking person, it’s just not possible. it’s like Dawkins himself has said about evolution: whether you like it or not, it’s a fact. this is exactly the same thing. shouting down Feminists and trivializing their concerns does not make said concerns false.

    p.s.- not that anyone is asking, but i’m a man, and i consider myself an avowed Feminist.

  121. Just another old white heterosexual (definitely not rich) man who is totally in support of your stance. Dawkins has exposed himself for all to see. His defense of class privilege goes way back to his unprincipled attacks on S. J. Gould.

  122. Below is an email that I wrote in support of Rebecca, that I’ve sent to some of the contact addresses at the RDF website. Keep up the good work!

    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.


    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,

  123. I, for one, welcome our new “Captain Planet-type superhero” Rebecca.

    Seriously: long-time reader/lurker just registering to say thank you for increasingly and consistently taking the hard & high road of not letting this stuff pass, and of putting yourself on the line as a needed and valued leader.

    You are made of awesome and a bunch of women you don’t even know have your back.

    I have no doubt you’re making things better for the women who come after you, too.

  124. I’ve listened to Rebecca’s video and read the post above three times through slowly and I’m still not really sure what I am supposed to “get.” The incident in the elevator sounds unfortunate. I certainly can’t and won’t argue with Rebecca’s self-report about how the incident made her feel. Other than creepy guys can make women feel uncomfortable and/or threatened what am I supposed to take away from this? a) Men shouldn’t hit on women? b) Men shouldn’t hit on strange women? c) Men shouldn’t hit on strange women in elevators? My opinion is that unsolicited sexual advances are always crass so I’d vote for a,b, and c, but that’s my opinion. I wouldn’t accuse someone who disagreed with me of “not getting it”. I would just say they disagreed with me.

    It would be very helpful if someone would state it short declarative sentences exactly what we are supposed to get. Maybe I have it already. I certainly disagree with Richard, but I can’t see it as anything other that a difference of opinion. If there is a path to certainty or objective truth on this it eludes me.

    1. If you’re looking for a point to get, I suggest: men should not feel entitled to push a woman sex in a situation where they hold disproportionate power.

      1. Small correction, should read “push a woman to give them sex.”

    2. You may take away from this that women at conferences are interested in the topic of the conference in the first place and most of them are not there to find a mate.
      You also may take away that sitting around mute all evening and then back invite the other person into ones hotel room with the first sentence one ever spoke to the other person is creepy.

      Maybe I’m wrong but I think this wasn’t supposed to be a big deal, just a polite call at everyones self awareness. It became a big deal because of the outrageous reactions of some guys including (I’m really really sorry for this!) Richard Dawinks.

    3. I think they are saying men should never talk to women. Or breath. Or ever get in an elevator that a woman might want to get into afterwards.

  125. Rebecaa, I agree with your main point (and no “but”).

    On a side topic: I find your privilege description odd. I think your privileges as a white, western, semi-famous, probably soon be rich (very much deserved!) woman are much closer to RD’s than they are to the average or median. So while he is super privileged, the difference to you is not that huge (relative to the full spectrum). I think your comment doesn’t reflect that.

  126. Rebecca, I never knew much about you before this; I had vaguely heard of skepchick, but had never checked your blog out before. Then this epic shitstorm showed up on Metafilter, where I do hang out a lot, and holy cow–it was so upsetting and startling to see “allies” bend over backwards to fight for some dude’s right to mack on you in the elevator. As though it were up there with the right to assembly or something.

    Anyway, I see that sexism in the atheist community made you a feminist; it has certainly drawn this feminist’s attention to that community and to the idea that maybe I need to hang out there more and point out the obvious truths. Like you did.

  127. You don’t hit on someone you just met in an enclosed space at 4 am. Its just creepy and weird. Easy for me to understand really.

  128. I listen to you on SGU and watch you on Twitter, and you’re basically my fav lady on a podcast ever even though I’ve never commented to say as much, but this situation sort of makes me need to comment. I’m glad you speak out and I’m glad you’re trying to explain. Don’t stop talking. Some people are listening.

  129. Rebecca,

    I’ve read your blog posts and PZ’s posts and many of the comments. I’ve read Richard Dawkins’ comments and am confused and disappointed by them.

    I have much in common with Richard. I also am old, heterosexual, white and male. Unlike Richard I am not wealthy and also unlike him I do get it. I get your original point. Elevator Male was totally out of order – however benign his intentions might have been that night. Better he had chosen to leave you the elevator and taken the stairs.

    What I don’t get is why you are abandoning Dawkins and his work. Didn’t I read somewhere that you would be open to meet him at TAM and talk it out? Better to help him to get it and have him recruited to help others get it. To quote another famous(notorious), old(at the time), heterosexual, white, male – Winston Churchill – “To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.”.

    Please reconsider your decision.

  130. Well said Rebecca Watson and thankyou.

    You have my support for what it’s worth.

    To me, I think this is all about one word : consideration.

    Consider how the other person thinks, what they might feel and wish for and behave accordingly. Be considerate not just selfish, treat others – women too – with respect.

    How is this hard? How can this create such an online firestrom of controversy? Yeesh!

    I am disappointed that Richard Dawkins has responded so badly, so stubbornly and has insulted your intelligence and everyone elses by his utterly irrelvant “but the Muslims!” and “elevators have buttons!” non-arguments. I expected better from him.
    Expected better from almost everyone.

    There are some whackjobs out there whose rants on this (& a few other things recently) make me feel ashamed to be male sometimes.

    There are also many men who do get it and are willing to try and be decent human beings (gentlemen in the old fashioned terminology) and I try to be one of them.

    Feel free to quote this with or without cites and use as youfeel best suits you Ms Watson. Best regards : StevoR (aka Flying sardines aka Messier Tidy Upper on this & other blogs.)

  131. I want to comment and say that at first I was having trouble understanding the problem as well. When I read Dawkins’ comments, they were a little further than I was willing to go, but I was with him. I have to say, now, that I am starting to get it. It was only by reading hundreds of comments, from various blogs, that it started to really make sense. It just goes to show that a man who has identified as a feminist for years still has much to learn.

    And while I still have questions about the intersection of privilege, sex-positivity, and sluthood (which is a good thing), I understand more now than I did a few days ago. Thanks for the consciousness raising…oh wait…can we still use that phrase?


  132. Mostly all this is does is just make me sad :( I saw a video of you and Dawkins at the conference joking about ringtones. You seem like you’d be buddies. INTERNET COMMENTS RUIN EVERYTHING.

  133. The topic of sexism is uncomfortable to discuss. We love, marry and raise children with each other so it’s a very intimate subject.

    Uncomfortable for all of us, especially face to face. Men I imagine fear some sort of attack and prepare to defend themselves. Women like me fear being viewed as a rabid, slathering bitch.

    I thank you Rebecca for bringing this into the open. You’ve brought the issue to the forefront where we are forced to look, if we want to attract more women to skepticism.

    I remember realizing the ways I was making people of colour uncomfortable without knowing it. It was hard to accept. And really embarrassing. So good luck guys with the struggle and difficulty. And thanks for those who put the effort in and get it.

    1. One thing I realized fairly early on is that I didn’t necessarily see everything my own mother was experiencing, since she was non white while I am light skinned enough to be able to pass as white. I had to listen to what she said happened to her to find out.

    2. Thanks. Few women appreciate how uncomfortable they can make men feel, or how being called “potential rapist” all the time is a negative.

  134. Ah, the elusive comment #207. Prime comment real estate, this.

    There seem to be (as happened with at least one commenter above) dudes who don’t understand what went wrong here, regarding the initial elevator incident. They’re not sexist, they’re sincere. They truly don’t get it and stuff like this makes them avoid ever expressing interest in a woman for fear it will be taken the wrong way.

    Remember, we’re dealing in a population of males with very little social wisdom. As kids we were playing D&D and video games, not learning how to talk to girls. Hence the confusion. Which is why Rebecca’s educational video post about what not to do was a good idea.

    There are a couple of other things. One, a lot of men, myself included, know women who’ve been propositioned in a manner similar to what happened with Rebecca & who took the guy up on the offer. This prompts confusion, as in the “If it worked for him, it might work for me” mentality.

    Not a valid response, as it turns out. The difference is that the woman in some way – probably nonverbally – communicated she was open to the advance and the man in question took the hint. She has to have given some sign she’s interested. A lot of guys don’t get this. It’s an education problem.

    Two, if a woman – or a gay man – asked me up for coffee in such a way, I’d be flattered. ‘Cause I’m a dude and that’s how we are. I’ve never met a man who was annoyed by the number of women hitting on him. The difference being that women are approached in this way so often as to find it difficult to breathe at times. My woman friends are soaking in unwanted advances. There’s an educational opportunity here as well.

    I post this because it’s important to acknowledge that this problem is one of education as much as anything else. And lots of guys simply don’t know how to process this kind of thing. It’s not really them. It’s how they were (and how I was) raised.

    Takes a while and a lot of listening (and a good Dad, actually, in my case) to help a guy figure this out.

    Long post short: Rebecca, please keep posting mild-mannered videos the one which prompted this whole mess. It was gentle but firm. It was completely appropriate. It’s the best thing you or any other woman can do to help the nice guys figure out where the lines are actually drawn.

    1. I don’t disagree with you though I think you make a false comparison. Most women are not opposed to be flirted with. If heterosexual men are having casual consensual sex than heterosexual women are too. I am somewhat incredulous that there are many women who agree to go to a hotel room alone with a man they have talked to for all of a minute, in an enclosed elevator. I suspect this is more an absence of detail from the man telling the story than a real reflection of events. To your point, there was probably some interaction ahead of time. Flirting and propositions are not, in and of themselves, creepy.

      A better analogy might be how you approach someone who asks you detailed personal information after knowing you for only a few minutes. If you were at a bar and a woman talked to you and asked “so, what’s your mom’s last name? when’s your birthday? Oh yah? what year?” These might strike a certain warning bell in your head. She may just be bad at small talk but you also know that this information can easily assist someone in identity fraud.

      That’s how I view a stranger asking me to follow him to a secluded place. Warning bells go off. When he does so before we’ve followed the standard niceties of making any sort of attempt to get to know each other it strikes me as even more suspicious.

  135. I’m so absolutely baffled by the reaction to what was a very politely stated and reasonable observation. The comments I’ve read confuse me, and anger me, and make me utterly convinced that no more than a handful of people have bothered to go watch the video for themselves. And I think, if something so mild can provoke so harsh a reaction, how can anyone at all maintain that there is no issue with sexism in this movement? I’ve seen far more controversial and confrontational things said about women in skepticism and atheism by the likes of PZ and others, and yet, somehow, it’s the somewhat casually recounted anecdote by a female voice that raises a shitstorm.

    You are my hero, Rebecca, and this latest controversy just reaffirms why. Never stop what you do.

  136. Thank you so much for posting this, and for persevering despite all the flak you’ve gotten. I consider myself a skeptic intellectually, but socially I’m so turned off by the misogyny and racism in a lot of the community that I tend to stay at arm’s length. I’m really glad the issue is starting to get some attention.

  137. I want to first of all thank Phil Plait for passing this on via twitter. There are some really good guys out there and he is obviously one of them.
    Do these guys want thier mothers, sisters etc. treated this way? Women are still routinely marginalized by doctors as hypochondriacs. There are a lot of examples…
    Tell the men you will not sleep with them until they wear a veil and high heels for a week.
    Do they understand that in China in 1948 women were not allowed outside the house without a male relative, had to be submissive, and had to wear a veil as well as suffer foot binding? Do they understand that is really what is important about the cultural revolution in China in 1949? Look at Chinese women now! Even they still have a way to go, however, the changes in China happened within the last century.
    I love the fact that Middle eastern women are protesting by driving, they are getting on the internet and telling about Subaru selling cars in thier country so we can threaten to boycott them. (For more info see Change.org)
    I am hoping that the changes in the Middle east will be as radical as they were in China for women, I also wish for them to be more peaceful.

  138. Rebecca, I’m sure I have nothing left to say after 214 (give or take) comments. All I want to say is you rock!

    Every Skepchick I have met over the years has set a wonderful example for the rest of us (male or female) Keep up the good work and see you at TAM.


  139. … you’re not upset over the man hitting on you.

    You’re upset over someone being upset that you’re upset over a man hitting on you, as if it shouldn’t bother you at all.

    I think most men are upset at this because we’re–wrongfully so–reading this as there’s some sort of expectation that we shouldn’t initiate contact with women for fear of being thought a rapist.

    Men, the lesson is try to seem less like a creep. If you want to be daring at 4AM in the morning, do it after she steps out of the elevator.

  140. First time poster here.

    Sadly, I agree with you. The thing is that you didn’t scream and shout to have the elevator guy hanged for what he did. You just said the guy came off as weird and maaaaaaybe that shouldn’t be how you pick up chicks. I know I certainly wouldn’t go to a guy’s room, especially if I just met the dude in a cramped elevator. I’m mildly claustrophobic in elevators, it’s not the right place for pickup lines.

    I could do a bit of shady comparisons here. I’m sure that if I were to say to these guys “What would YOU say if a chick were to act that way to you in a cornered elevator?”, he’d puff his chest, laugh and say he’d offer to bring her to his room instead or something. But what if we were to say “What if it was an obviously stereotyped gay guy hitting on you?” No doubt they’d say they’d feel a bit awkward.

    And I’d say they need to grow a thicker skin. But yet again…Shady, cliché and mildly insensitive comparison.

    It’s like we have to be forced to accept being constantly hit on. Mind you I can take a lot. I’m not offended by sexy outfits in games, and one of my favorite games is Bayonetta. She’s got the attitude to back up and you can see she’s that way because she WANTS to be. An attitude that a lot of sexed up characters do not have.

    But IRL? Erm, I have a few problems opposite gender wise. I didn’t have a shiny past. I’d be FREAKED OUT in your place, Rebecca. Tact, gentlemen. It’s called tact. We have a brain. We can be there just because we want to share opinions with you. I’m sure you can dismiss the part where we have an “opposite” gender and just share a smart conversation.

  141. Im thinkin about becoming a rapist, so you feminists have something real to complain about.

    1. Author : daviddavid (IP: , 71-217-1-159.tukw.qwest.net)
      E-mail : [email protected]
      URL :
      Whois : http://whois.arin.net/rest/ip/

      NetRange –
      Name QWEST-INET-118
      Handle NET-71-208-0-0-1
      Parent NET71 (NET-71-0-0-0-0)
      Net Type Direct Allocation
      Origin AS
      Organization Qwest Communications Company, LLC (QCC-22)
      Registration Date 2005-05-06
      Last Updated 2006-05-11

      1. Figures–a disposable email address. No doubt he and his MRM buddies are patting themselves on the back right now, in their depressingly banal way.

        1. People like him are always cowards at heart. And probably on Loveshy.

        2. Please could someone let me know
          (i) what MRM and MRA stand for, and
          (ii) why these are used as insults on this thread?

          I searched Wikipedia and it came up with “Men’s rights” (see here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Men%27s_rights)

          It this what these two acronyms refer to? If so, I am confused as the Wikipedia article seems to indicate that this is a movement that is not a horrible thing, but something which has helped people, such as Indian men facing unfair dowry laws.

          I would be grateful if someone could explain this to me, or post links. Maybe I have the wrong meanings!

      2. Holy Crap! Did you just totally OUT that guy’s digital identity? Well done!

      3. Thanks for posting DNS information on daviddavid. Will be contacting Qwest shortly to let them know that one of their users can’t handle themselves on the interwebs.

    2. This right there. This encapsulates what women have to put up with. That whole mentality of of “behave bitch or I’ll rape you”. And you know what? No. I’m not going to shut up. And neither is Rebecca, or Jen, or Ophelia, or Phil, or PZ… the list goes on. Your empty threats are no good.

    3. Daviddavid: I am at a total loss trying to figure out what you think you’re going to accomplish. Are you fantasising that someone is afraid of you? Is taunting people the only way you can get attention? Help me out here.

    4. Just wanted to add my support for Rebecca.

      Keep up the good fight.

  142. Rebecca, after reading your post (linked to by the wonderful PZ) I registered comment. I haven’t read the whole thread; I assume, like most threads on this subject, it’s a gigantic clusterfuck.

    I wanted to thank you for speaking out, and I wanted to chalk up one more atheist who tries to be aware of his privilege when talking to women. Keep up the good work.

  143. Rebecca,
    I just wanted to say thank you for standing up for yourself and by trying to make more of us white hetero males think about how our actions and words can affect others. Sometimes being called out and made aware of our cluelessness and/or creepiness is exactly the medicine need to help us be a little bit more of a decent human being.

  144. Rebecca, you are a brave woman and you have my utmost respect.
    Two dear friends of mine have been raped and one word they use to describe their ongoing state of mind is “vulnerable”.
    Given the threats you have been receiving it is natural that you would also begin to feel the same way.
    Dawkins just does not seem to be taking that into account.
    The other message that one of these awesome women gave to me is that she REFUSES TO LET ALL THAT DEFINE HER LIFE.

    To tell the story in full would demonstrate just how remarkable that statement is, but would be a betrayal.

    In short, Rebecca, you display the same outstanding courage under fire and you have my full support.

  145. When I started this site, I didn’t call myself a feminist. I had a hazy idea that feminism was a good thing, but it was something that other people worried about, not me. I was living in a time and culture that had transcended the need for feminism, because in my world we were all rational atheists who had thrown off our religious indoctrination so that I could freely make rape jokes without fear of hurting someone who had been raped.

    I am a female student in sciences and I work in tech support. When I started reading your blog (discovered through PZ Myers), this paragraph was me. I’m sure you’re being drowned in comments and email from all directions right now, but I just wanted to throw my two cents in with all those letting you know you’ve got a (growing?) fan club. You’re doing what you’re doing with admirable rationality, and I like it.

  146. Rebecca,

    I think you are mostly right and Dawkins is mostly wrong about this issue. I understand that someone in your position has to take a stand of some kind, which is a shame because Dawkins has been so right about so many things for so long. In the interest of full disclosure, I am a 50-year-old male.

    Fortunately, nobody really knows me, so I can continue to appreciate both of your respective work and bear in mind that you are only human and can be wrong about things sometimes.

    A comparatively recent fan

  147. Thanks Rebecca for a wonderful blog. I also wasn’t sure I wanted to be a feminist… but reactions like this (from Dawkins) remind me why feminism exists. I don’t understand why we women calmly stating what we like and don’t like are so threatening to some men. Not all women fit into neat little pigeonholes, do they? I’m not an atheist… but I am not a fundamentalist either :) I’m a thinker, a geek, a huge reader, a computer scientist, and our family’s breadwinner.

    Keep on writing! Now to read some of your other entries… I hope to find you as kind to theists as you are to other women :)

  148. “I believe that day has nearly arrived.”

    Most excellent. I’m not happy it’s necessary, but I’m thrilled to have such articulate, perceptive allies as you and the other feminists who have spoken up on this issue.

    Dawkins was a huge disappointment. Unexamined privilege explains part of it, but short-sightedness is to blame too–doesn’t he have a daughter?

  149. I’d just like to thank you (and others who have written on the topic) about needing to be aware of normalised behaviour. While I’m not cognisant that any action I normally do does cause offense/threat/worry, I suppose the whole point is that I may not be aware it does. At least with awareness, if there is an issue, it can be changed. Full support on your position. Thanks and good luck.

  150. Rebecca, I want to thank you. I seen now that I have been naive. I mean, I had the feeling that Richard Dawkins was a bit of a dick, but I really had NO idea he was so brutally vicious. Thank you for having the courage and conviction to do what you are doing.

  151. Hi Rebecca – just wanted to say how impressed I am with your bravery, and that there are buckets of other feminists who feel that way too (check out Shakesville’s thread about it – the nice part is, we ferociously mod-protect our commentariat, so you won’t have to worry about the horrible ones!).

    I’ve posted at my own small blog, Why I’m Not a Movement Atheist, a space for women to describe how this kind of misogyny has kept them from participating in the movement of atheism.

    Thanks for fighting the good fight, and know there are many, many of us behind you.

  152. Good grief! I’m away for a few days and look at all the trouble you’ve caused! There’s even a few threads about it on the JREF forum.

    I can certainly appreciate your being creeped out in the elevator, as I’m well aware that the atheist/skeptics movement seems to have more than its fair share of creepers.

    Anyhow, as much as it pains me to say it, I’m on your side.

    See you at TAM 9.

  153. The biggest disappointment to me about the skeptical movement is the amount of sexism found within it.
    I expected more from people that can supposedly reason rationally and scientifically. Sadly that now seems pretty naive.
    Rebecca you do an awesome job of making visible the issues women face on a day to day basis. Issues that are invisible to lot of men like Dawkins. Issues that make it more difficult to be a part of the aetheist community that women have every right to be part of.
    Keep being visible, you are a hero and you are making a large difference. !!

  154. Rebecca,

    The big question in my mind is, “These are skeptics. Why aren’t they being skeptical?”

    Why is it with homeopathy or Scientology these folks can largely drop in and get on the evidence based side of things, but no one can open up to the idea that they’re sexist? or at least wrong?

    Does does it seem that skepticism start from their nose and never from their hearts and minds?

    (For that matter, why are there libertarian skeptics? I think it matters because I think the overall attitude seems to be, “I’m skeptical about what you believe and never about me.”)

  155. Hey Rebecca, First time poster here.

    When I read Richard’s comment (Dear Muslima) on PZ’s site, I thought that PZ should really be more careful about people posing as Richard….

    You have set about to educate men to simply not act like elevator man. Now Richard chimes in and exposes himself of his uneducated views. He asked on a PZ post for someone to explain the situation to him. So do it directly. If you are the knowledgeable person in this situation, step up to your Goddess stature and do it intelligently and compassionately. Stick to discussing his behavior and flawed thinking. The poor guy’s been living like this for 70 years. Time for him to learn some new tricks.

    Several people are saying to cut off communication, ban, belittle him. Why do something as small minded as this? You are the wiser one, so teach away. Do it diplomatically and you will be greatly respected by many more.

    Yes, we western women do not have it as tough as some women. Yet, A little injustice here and there adds up eating away at our time, our talent, our income, our earning potential, our ability to care for ourselves and others. The extra ten, twenty grand (or more) or job promotion can be put to good use. It’s not small to us because it impacts our lives greatly.

    Men need to talk to women and listen to their stories of how men get promoted and they don’t. This stuff even happens in female dominated professions – women find themselves working for men. I went to an art conference and about 40 of the 600 attendees were men, yet nearly all the panelists were men. It’s as if society needs and expects men to lend a certain legitimacy or authority to something – a cause or profession. Some people just can’t see a woman in a leadership role maybe because they still have her classified as “Mom” or “sex partner.”

    Most men understand when a woman is concerned for her safety. I think any man who doesn’t get this, needs to dress like a woman for a week like Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie to learn how to empathize and understand what women deal with. If that doesn’t suit their style, google “women’s safety tips.” Read as many as you can for two hours or until it sinks in. Here’s a start. http://www.womentraveltips.com/tips5.shtml

  156. It is very common for a guy who’s asking a girl out for the first time to have that conversation alone, to avoid public embarrassment in the event of a rejection. It even happens in the Harry Potter books, and is perfectly innocent in there. The fact that he asked it privately is not in itself a bad thing.

    Also, nice people pretending not to notice each other on elevators is not going to stop rapists from raping people on elevators. There’s nothing inherently bad with starting conversations on elevators.

    There are people who are into consensual casual sex with strangers. They have the right to do that. And they have the right to be straightforward when popping the question as long as they respect the answer and leave you alone after they get rejected.

    I’ve read Shrodinger’s Rapist, etc etc all over the blogosphere about this issue. I think behaving or fearing as if everyone may be some inhuman monster until proven otherwise is extremely corrosive socially. People should trust each other more.

    Men and women alike are more likely to get mugged and robbed than to get raped, yet that doesn’t justify constantly living in fear and acting as if everyone you meet is probably a thug.

    Give strangers the benefit of the doubt but study kung fu, IMO. I appreciate that what the guy did was socially akward and inadvertently made Rebecca feel uncomfortable, so he shouldn’t have done it, but it wasn’t WRONG. Doing wrong requires doing harm or intending to do harm.

    1. Wow.

      Not trusting people is not corrosive socially, it is rapists that are corrosive. If there weren’t rapists, the rational fear would not exist. QED. Then assertions about whether or not Rebecca was ver-reacting etc. would have some basis in reality.

      And great advice on studying Kung Fu. It is a great way to keep in shape. But for defending yourself, it is little better than useless–and in fact, might be worse, as it gives you the illusion that you can protect yourself, when in fact you cannot. I boxed in college and fought in Golden Gloves and I am blind on my right eye from a bar fight, because I got hit in the head from behind with brass knuckles and had my head stomped on.

      If any encounter becomes physical, you will get hit and very probably seriously hurt, even if you “win”. It is better to educate men on how their behavior makes women feel, to empower MEN to confront that behavior in other men, and to value people as people first.

      Rebecca did a great service both to the skeptical movement and to society at large by simply pointing out a faux pas. Thats all that happened . But then some men had to freak out because they saw that behavior in themselves, and felt the need to defend the fact that they aren’t creeps–when, in fact, they probably are.

      1. Oh- and “wrong” has nothing to do with intent. If someone has the best intention but offends or upsets someone in the process, the intent does not obviate the emotions of the offended person. Certainly, humans can be hypersensitive. But that is not the case here.

        Whatever the intent of Elevator Guy, Rebecca could not have known it, but was aware of her circumstances, was aware that she made her intentions were when she left the gathering, and those intentions were ignored.

        And propositioning a stranger on an elevator is never ok. Wait until the door opens, let her get off, hold the door, and give her your room number, let the door close. At best. And even then, talk to her before that. Sheesh.

        1. The intent of the perp is of paramount importance in ethics and criminal law. It makes the difference between first degree murder and involuntary manslaughter, for example. Also, if you intend to hurt someone and don’t actually succeed in hurting them, that’s still wrong, and may be the crime of attempted ____.

  157. Rebecca,

    I’m glad you do what you do. I didn’t get a chance to say hello to you at CONvergence, but I really enjoyed the SkepchickCON panels I attended. I left the convention feeling energized and excited to be around so many like-minded folks. But then I came home, and made the mistake of reading through the usual blogs. Internets, I am disappoint. :\

    As someone relatively new to the atheist community, I’m in awe at the sheer amount of asshattery I’ve seen in the comments over at Bad Astronomy and Pharyngula. Not only do a lot of these people “not get it,” they seem to be waving their ignorance around like a flag. It really feels like a punch to the gut, because I had expected better from the atheist/skeptical community. I’ve been a lurker for a while now, and this latest development leaves me wondering if I should even try to participate.

    I think I would have felt exactly the same if I were in your shoes. It’s not at all unreasonable for a woman to feel threatened in that kind if situation. Yet it seems like we are wrong for having these feelings. Because we have intact genitals and are allowed to drive cars, we’re crying over spilled milk. We’re the ones being unreasonable for not wanting to be the recipients of unwanted sexual advances.

    As a woman who has been propositioned by creepy men before (dark parking lot, bus stop, just walking down the freaking street…) I completely sympathize with you. A strange man once knocked on my car window at night after I’d parked, told me I was pretty, then proceeded to hit on me while trying to get me to give him bus fare. I still remember how scared I was, and how powerless I felt. Fortunately, the man left after I finally convinced him I didn’t have any money. I was fortunate he didn’t have a weapon. I don’t think I slept that night.

    And I’m not saying that men I’m not acquainted with are not allowed to talk to me. They need to understand that until I get to know them, I’m not going to assume their intentions are pure. Is it too much to ask that a man approach me in a public place and introduce himself before asking if I’m single or if I’d be interested in having sex with him? Why is this not obvious?

    Anyways, that was longer than I intended. I just want to let you know that I appreciate what Skepchick does. Keep fighting the good fight.