Oh, no, not again…once more unto the breach

This is your last gasp on the topic of the proper way to make a sexual advance. I’m just going to wrap up a few dangling bits.

Jen has slammed Richard Dawkins for some comments here. I can confirm that those comments were actually from Richard Dawkins. I also have to say that I agree with Jen and disagree with Richard.

Richard did make the valid point that there are much more serious abuses of women’s rights around the world, and the Islam is a particularly horrendous offender. Women have their genitals mutilated, are beaten by husbands without recourse to legal redress, are stoned to death for adultery, are denied basic privileges like the right to drive or travel unescorted. These are far more serious problems than most American women face.

However, the existence of greater crimes does not excuse lesser crimes, and no one has even tried to equate this incident to any of the horrors above. What these situations demand is an appropriate level of response: a man who beats a woman to death has clearly committed an immensely greater crime than a man who harrasses a woman in an elevator; let us fit the punishment to the crime. Islamic injustice demands a worldwide campaign of condemnation of the excesses and inhumanity of that religion.

The elevator incident demands…a personal rejection and a woman nicely suggesting to the atheist community that they avoid doing that. And that is what it got. That is all Rebecca Watson did. For those of you who are outraged at that, I ask: which part of her response fills you with fury? That a woman said no, or that a woman has asked men to be more sensitive?

I think reasonable men will be quite capable of both opposing Islamic fundamentalism with vigor and refraining from driving away their godless colleagues with petty harrassment, colleagues who may well be even more fervent and dedicated to our common cause of promoting equality all around the world. These are not mutually contradictory actions. They are complementary and necessary. Our goal isn’t to set the bar of equality at a level slightly higher than the situation in Saudi Arabia, or to some point somewhere around the significantly more enlightened (but still not adequate) level in America, but at a point where every woman has the same rights and privileges as every man, where women don’t have to fear being raped, and yes, where women don’t have to face this dismaying, depressing, common situation of seeing their autonomy disrespected and their compatriots rushing to excuse loutish behavior.

One other matter: some people muddled the issue by also pretending to be Richard Dawkins. Impersonating anyone else on this blog is an immediately bannable offense: I don’t warn you, I just delete all of your comments, and then I ban both your username and your IP address. You’re gone, burned to the ground. I’ve eradicated two Dawkins impersonators in that way. Don’t do it.

This thread really is the last on this specific topic. The only thing I’ve so far found useful about them is that they’ve smoked the flaming misogynists out of the woodwork. Try not to be one of them, OK?

Since Richard Dawkins has responded and is asking for an explanation of what he is missing, I’ll try to oblige.

Try googling “elevator rape”. What you will find is an unpleasant combination of stories about real crimes in which women were raped in elevators, and porn about women being raped in elevators. It is a small confined place in which a woman can be made helpless. Elevators aren’t exactly romantic or even comfortable; what a man might consider utilitarian transport can be seen as a cage to a woman alone.

The guy in the elevator was not accused of being a rapist; I got the impression from Rebecca that she wasn’t even really worried about serious threat to her safety, but was annoyed that she was being pestered by an insensitive cad. It was “slightly bad,” as you put it, and she responded at an appropriate level to the problem. She basically said to the atheist community, ‘hey, guys, don’t be an insensitive cad,’ a suggestion I find remarkably uncontroversial — it’s a slightly good suggestion in response to a slightly bad problem. It’s darned good advice, even.

Here’s exactly what she said:

Um, just a word to wise here, guys, uh, don’t do that. You know, I don’t really know how else to explain how this makes me incredibly uncomfortable, but I’ll just sort of lay it out that I was a single woman, you know, in a foreign country, at 4:00 am, in a hotel elevator, with you, just you, and—don’t invite me back to your hotel room right after I finish talking about how it creeps me out and makes me uncomfortable when men sexualize me in that manner.

That really should be sufficient to explain to everyone exactly what was ‘slightly bad’ about this situation.

The response has been to belittle her reasonable suggestion, belittle her, accuse her of hysteria, defend the rudeness of the fellow with the proposition, and mostly act as if utterly obtuse to both the unpleasantness of the elevator faux pas and to disrespect the rational concerns of women. Women aren’t so much afraid that unruly mobs of atheist men will rape them at meetings, but that they’ll be dolts who trivialize legitimate and common concerns of women…and this incident has definitely shown that to be the case. We aren’t just going to see Rebecca Watson diminished as an asset to atheism, but all the other women who seek common cause with atheism will watch how we treat our own and find this community significantly less attractive.

This isn’t slightly bad. It’s very bad. Atheist men are alienating the people we want to work with us on the very same problems, the oppression of women under religious regimes, that you cited in your comment.

I’m taking one last stab at explaining this. Imagine that Richard Dawkins meets a particularly persistent fan who insists on standing uncomfortably close to him, and Richard asks him to stand back a little bit; when he continues, he says to the rest of the crowd that that is rather rude behavior, and could everyone give him a little breathing space? Which then leads to many members of the crowd loudly defending the rudeness by declaring that since the guy wasn’t assaulting him, he should be allowed to keep doing that, and hey, how dare Richard Dawkins accuse everyone present of trying to mug him!

That’s exactly analogous to Rebecca Watson’s situation. She did not make these hysterical accusations everyone is claiming, she did not compare herself to the oppressed women of the third world, she did not demonize the clumsy sap in the elevator — she asked for some simple common courtesy, and for that she gets pilloried.

Sorry, people, but that sends a very clear signal to women that calm requests for respect will be met with jeers by a significant subset of the atheist community, and that’s not right.