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Jul 03 2011

Wow, Richard Dawkins is Clueless

I love Richard Dawkins.  I like his books, I love watching him read his hate mail, I loved listening to him talk at TAM last year, I loved watching him smirk about everything, I loved his documentary and I just like him in general.

But he doesn’t get what it’s like to be a woman.  Not that one would expect him to have a total understanding, he is not a woman, but you would think that he’d be able to empathize just a little with women.  Apparently not.  Apparently if your genitals aren’t being mutilated and you’re complaining about creepy behavior from men at conferences, you’re just complaining about nothing.  Wow, that’s great PR from a movement trying to get more women involved.

Have some background:

  1. Rebecca Watson was part of a panel about feminism.
  2. A stranger followed her into the elevator at four in the morning, waited for the doors to be closed, and tried to get her to go back to the room with him.
  3. She was creeped out majorly by this behavior. And was bothered that her talk had apparently made no difference and that her wish to go back to her room and sleep, which she said to a large room of people that included the stranger, was being ignored by someone who thought it was his right to hit on her regardless of what she wanted.
  4. Another female blogger, Stef McGraw, said she was overreacting.
  5. Rebecca Watson mentioned Stef, by name, in another panel.
  6. Stef then said it was abuse of power for Watson to call her out in a panel.
  7. A bunch of guys in the movement started protesting that if you can’t approach a stranger in the middle of the night (in an enclosed, inescapable space) then how will you ever meet anyone in the movement??? Plus, Freedom of Speech!
  8. PZ posted about it, which garnered much response and vitriol from various people.
  9. DAWKINS came into the comment thread and said basically that it was OK for guys to be creepy because some women get their genitals mutilated. That the creepy behavior was NO DIFFERENT from someone chewing gum on an elevator. Richard Dawkins said this, PZ confirmed it was actually him.
  10. My head exploded

Here’s some advice for guys: If a woman, particularly a complete stranger, can literally not get away from you, that’s not a good time to proposition her.  If you’ve got her trapped in a small space or are between her and her escape route, don’t imply, on any level, that you’d like to do things to her body.  Just don’t.

Why?  Because she doesn’t know if you’re a good guy or not and she’s trapped in a space suddenly with someone who doesn’t care about how safe she feels, and in this particular case, has already intentionally ignored her stated wishes.  Why on earth would she think you’re not going to ignore it when she says NO?  There are lots of opportunities to express interest in ways that don’t feel incredibly dangerous to a woman — if you put yourself in her shoes and think, “Would this seem safe if I was a woman who might get raped by a strange man?”  If the answer is anything but, “Yes,” DON’T DO IT.

Here is an amazing post about how not to make women feel scared shitless when you try to hit on them.  Don’t act like a threat!  Don’t ignore what people say!  Don’t ignore body language!  And don’t accuse women of complaining about meaningless crap when they’re afraid for their safety because some people have it worse!

7 comments

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  1. 1
    funkmon

    I am kinda with Dawkins on this one. Some dudes are creepy. It happens to everyone. I really think Rebecca was making too big of a deal abouT it. It’s like when my ex girlfriend told me a story about how she almost got raped. It was just a drunk guy hitting on her while she was alone.

    The skeptical movement is full of socially awkward men who might be embarrassed to make a move when there are others around. This guy was just a moron, like tons of other people. It happens to everyone.

    See you at TAM 9!

  2. 2
    Ashley F. Miller

    How is saying something made her uncomfortable making too big a deal out of it – she didn’t say he was going to rape her, just that his behavior was inappropriate. It’s the men who got up in arms about their right to hit on women who’ve asked to be let alone that have made this a big deal. When tons of women in the movement are saying this would make them uncomfortable, why isn’t the response accepting instead of being nasty? She’s trying to help socially awkward guys know when they’re crossing the line, and to point to the kind of behavior that makes women uncomfortable.

    And it wasn’t just that she was alone, she’d asked not to be propositioned and he got her in an inescapable space.

  3. 3
    Martin Blake, PhD

    Back in my days of youth when I would travel the roads less travelled all across Africa and Asia I found myself in a Nepalese village of no particular note. As I strolled through it I noticed that the women of the village would shrivel away and hide due to my presence. Being an educated gentleman of Oxford pedigree I of course was surprised (and I’ll admit, to my shame, a tad pleased at being in a position of privilege not usually afforded to University bookworms) by the reaction. Upon running into a woman who did not seem to pay me any mind, I inquired in my broken Gurung as to why I was getting this peculiar reaction. She told me that in all likelihood none of the women had ever seen a white man. To them I was like the fantastic Yeti, a creature much heard about and feared, but never actually seen. It was then that I understood that fear of the unknown is ingrained deeply within the human psyche. It is no less natural for miss Watson to be afraid of a Penisoid Hominid than it is for me to cross the street upon setting my eyes on a well built humanoid of African descent.

    That said, it is one thing to view all members of a certain subgroup as possible anal rapists, and quite another to publicly express these feelings and criticise others in an inappropriate manner when they object. While I am very much sympathetic to the idea that half the human species should be considered potential rapists, it is only from a position of extensive social privilege that we may make such accusations without considerable social side effects, and it bemoans us all to exercise some responsibility with our words.

    Tally ho!

  4. 4
    Hannah Lee

    Richard Dawkins only wants to hear complaints about the social ineptitude of certain Atheist men , if the woman has suffered under Sharia Law.
    So, if any other woman expects Dawkins to listen, she’s S.O.L. — But, if she can find someone to hit her over head with a club and then f*#@k her down by the river, then perhaps he’ll listen.

  5. 5
    ManBitesDog

    I don’t think it was Rebecca that made too big a deal out of it; it was the part of the community who built a narrative out of this incident that I feel Dawkins is objecting too. I know that’s what made me step back and say “Whoa, hey, hang on a sec.”

    The Schrödinger’s Rapist article is a good example of this; let’s take this principle and apply it to another criteria, instead of gender and rape, we’ll use race and robbery.

    Where I live, much like a disproportionate amount of rape is committed by men, a disproportionate amount of robbery is committed by black people. So one evening I head up from the bar to go to bed at around 4am, as I do so a black person leaves the bar at the same time and gets into the same elevator, effectively following me. While in the elevator, this person turns to me and expresses an interest in my wristwatch and asks to have a closer look. Because of the disproportionate amount of robbery committed by black people, I have an instinctive fear reaction based on my perception of the person and the circumstances of the encounter. My immediate thought runs to the lack of escape options and the possibility of this person wanting to rob me. I politely refuse and the person lets it drop. That’s the end of it.

    Then I go onto blog and make a post that says “Black people, don’t do this:” or I write an article about how I view all black people as potential robbers until they demonstrate otherwise.

    Well, I’m pretty sure you can see the problem with that… you’re not really at fault for feeling uncomfortable due the circumstances, but when you start asking a demographic to change their behaviour on account of my fear of a tiny subset of that demographic, that they have no control over, then you’re being hugely unfair to those people.

    (The point of my comparison is not to compare being male to being a minority, the point is to make a comparison based on the way we act towards demographics whose membership is something beyond our control.)

  6. 6
    Nate

    Pack heat. Than you have no reason to fear elevators. Even if you are a self avowed man hater.

  7. 7
    Just Another Guy

    “Here’s some advice for guys”

    How about: “Here’s some advice”, or “Here’s some advice for everybody”?

    Women can be just as intimidating. Heck it can happen between two guys or two women too. No need to point the finger solely at men.

  1. 8
    „Schrödingers Vergewaltiger“ « Alles Evolution

    [...] Debatte um „Elevatorgate“ und Dawkins Kommentar wurde es an verschiedenen Stellen angeführt um darzustellen, warum der unbekannte Mann Rebacca Watson nicht hätte ansprechen [...]

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    Feminism, Privilege, and Learning About Humility | Ashley Miller

    [...] I read about Watsongate from Ashley’s perspective.  Thanks to the SSA here in our meager town of Columbia, SC, I [...]

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