I’ve been arguing recently with one of my Twitter followers about the specifics behind the Elevatorgate incident and the fallout that ensued. It seems that she’s seen fit to make private the extraordinarily long blog post that she put up about the subject. Completely coincidentally, I assume, after I showed her that the guy that approached Rebecca Watson in an elevator was present and within earshot when she said she was going to bed.
I had intended to address a few more of her concerns so that we can get back to the actual topic of privilege, but many of those points were only on her blog post. She did, however, reiterate many of the high points in comments, so I’m not completely without blog fodder at the moment. And hopefully this will help us get back on track really quickly.
One of Mechelle’s points was that a number of bloggers have been making use of a number of phrases that she considers hyperbolic — for instance, claiming that Rebecca had been “cornered” in the elevator.
[T]his is about a guy who was, off the bat, not only judged to be displaying inappropriate behavior by telling her he thought her interesting, but also extended an invitation to his room for coffee. Furthermore, it was done so in quite dishonest ways. Words were used to exaggerate the situation, like “cornered” “trapped” “followed” and it was even said that “he found her sexually attractive”, which he said nothing of the sort, all to plant the seed that the situation was more sinister than it really was.
When someone gets onto an elevator, they are trapped in that elevator between the floor they got on, and the floor they get off. It is a small, self-enclosed box, with one exit — an exit that only opens at pre-defined points in the trip. This should be self-evident, but apparently people need to be reminded of this fact. While you are on this elevator, you are required to wait for a certain amount of time before you reach your destination, during which time if there are other people on the same lift as you, you are their captive audience and vice versa.
There is a concept in the business world known as the elevator pitch. The idea is simple — when you step onto an elevator with one of the business world’s movers and shakers, you have between thirty and sixty seconds during which you might be able to sell your business to them. Because they can’t get away, they have to listen. Psychology pretty much disallows ignoring this person entirely — try ignoring someone in an elevator and showing no signs of acknowledgement while they’re speaking, then exiting the elevator without having acknowledged that they said anything. This is analogous to walking away from a person when they approach you on the street, with the exception that you are not putting any distance between you. So, when you’re on a lift with someone, they’re cornered. They’re a captive audience. They’re cornered.
And when you enter the elevator second, you are in fact following them.
I’m not the first person in this discussion to make this analogy. And Mechelle isn’t the first to claim there was, in fact, no “trapping” or “cornering” involved. The Elevator Pitch is a high pressure sales tactic intended to take a person out of their comfort zone and force them to make snap decisions that they might never otherwise make if given the benefit of some time to think. It removes the target’s ability to simply ignore as worthless the pitch, or escape the necessity of making a decision on the fly. It’s a psychological trick because it does, actually, work sometimes — more often than a less high-pressure sales tactic might. And it works not because the target actually wants to buy what the salesman is selling, but because the target does not want to be rude. Every “deferment” tactic is rude in this situation.
To understand Mechelle’s concerns, one must assume there is no harm in sitting in a bar with a woman for hours, hearing her say she’s going to bed, then following her into an elevator and making the first actual inter-personal contact between them something that could easily be mistaken for a thinly veiled come-on line, “don’t take this the wrong way” notwithstanding. Not only is it rude to suggest to someone heading to bed to do something other than go to bed, it’s rude to suggest that you have sole access to that person for a while when you, in fact, do not know the person well enough to merit that access. Even if it’s not for sex, asking a person for a one-on-one conversation usually implies either some amount of intimacy or some amount of comfort with that person; asking for a one-on-one conversation in an isolated location where escape is limited usually implies a great deal of comfort or intimacy. So even if you DON’T “take this the wrong way”, the man is well overstepping any sensible interpersonal boundaries and asking for a great deal more trust and intimacy than he’s due. It is why Rebecca was right to say no, no matter WHAT his intentions were.
I agree that there are many mitigating factors and that we do not, in fact, know whether this guy wanted anything more than coffee, or if he found her interesting for more than just her mind. Your or my feelings about Elevator Guy’s actual intent, however, are tangential. The action was deemed by Rebecca Watson as “creepy”. I posit that it is “creepy” because it is viewed, rightly so, as “potential rapist behaviour”. People who decried this event as “potential rapist behaviour” are painting this man, rightly or wrongly, as “Schrodinger’s Rapist” because he was actually engaging in behaviour that an actual rapist might engage in. Or, at the very least, they are behaviours that women are taught to avoid, even if they don’t actually keep you safe.
Now that we’ve settled that what Elevator Guy did was all-around bad, and all-around dumb, no matter WHAT his intentions actually were, can we move on to the actual question of privilege again? Or do we have to have another go-around with the Elevator Guy Defense League first?
And before you do start rallying to his defense, I will note that defending this guy’s actions is well beside the point. Even if he had the best intentions, what he did was demonstrably wrong, no matter which way you look at it. Unless of course your aim is to defend the guy’s actions because you want to, as the first commenter on that post says, “make you like the thing that I’m going to do anyway”.