Context matters

Rebecca Watson recently made a video about a situation that made her feel very uncomfortable at an atheist conference.

tl;dr: At 4am after a night of drinking with conference attendees, Rebecca said she was going to bed. A man followed her to the elevator, and once in the elevator, invited her to his room. This made her very uncomfortable. To spell it out for you, a potentially inebriated man sneaking off to follow you and only propositioning you once you’re alone and unable to escape sets off red flags, even if he was totally benign and had the best intentions in mind.

And this is all sort of ironic, especially since Rebecca had just given a talk on sexism and making women feel welcome.

Unfortunately, Rebecca is receiving some shittacular comments about how she’s hypersensitive and oppressing male sexuality, and how men are the real victims here because they can’t flirt without seeming like sex crazed rapists. I get the same sort of comments whenever I make similar observations. So I want to spell it out very clearly:

I am not anti-flirting. I am not anti-finding a significant other. I am not anti-casual sex. Hell, I’m single and incredibly interested in finding someone who’s also interested in atheism and skepticism. I’m trying to flirt and find a significant other when I go to events (I plead the fifth on the casual sex part).

But context matters.

Do not come up to me right after I give a talk on communicating skepticism and tell me a perk of my presentation was that I’m easy on the eyes.*

Feel free to say I’m cute when I’m rocking my black cocktail dress at Penn Jillette’s party at TAM 9.

Do not interrupt an intellectual discussion on diversity in the atheist movement with a unrelated sexual joke.*

Feel free to tell raunchy jokes when I’m having a beer at post-talk social. I’ll join you.

Do not reference my looks, boobs, or sexiness when introducing me for a talk or panel, especially when you would not do so for the male participants.*

Feel free to say you think I’m attractive in casual conversation and tweets, especially if it’s in addition to my intellectual accomplishment. I fangirl over people too – it’s okay.

Do not make numerous comments about my looks in an intellectual blog post that happens to contain a photo of me that’s not meant to be sexy.*

Feel free to comment away when I post photos from my Skepticon pinup calendar. You have the green light.

Do not follow me around the Skepchick party insisting that I drink your bottle of whiskey, after repeated “No thank you”s.*

Feel free to approach me or offer me a drink if you’re okay with the chance that I may not be interested. Sometimes I am!

And finally – if you miscalculate the context of the situation, if you accidentally make someone uncomfortable, if you come off as a creep but you really just had a brainfart and said something incredibly stupid and unintentionally demeaning – it’s okay. It happens. We’re human. It doesn’t mean you’re an evil misogynistic beast, even if we publicly discuss it so others can learn from your mistake.

But recognize said mistake, apologize, and learn from it.

*Yes, all of these “Do not”s have actually happened


  1. says

    A good article. I’m glad that Hillary Scott was able to articulate her perspective on interracial porn so well as it’s a view that I agree with completely.

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