Oy. So many other things overdue at the moment (including an Ada Lovelace Day post), but I thought I’d follow up on this thread from FeministPhilosophers, if only because I made a point that someone (Not Bothered) wanted more detail on and the thread has been (quite sensibly, IMHO) closed to that part of the discussion. I think that Not Bothered has, afaict, been pretty reasonably answered, so I’m not really adding more here. Perhaps repetition will help…who knows.
So, I wrote that e.g., Not Bothered didn’t get Rebecca Watson’s original point about the elevator encounter. My understanding of Watson’s fundamental point:
A few days later, I was making a video about the trip and I decided to use that as an example of how not to behave at conferences if you want to make women feel safe and comfortable. After all, it seemed rather obvious to me that if your goal is to get sex or even just companionship, the very worst way to go about attaining that goal is to attend a conference, listen to a woman speak for 12 hours about how uncomfortable she is being sexualized at conferences, wait for her to express a desire to go to sleep, follow her into an isolated space, and then suggest she go back to your hotel room for “coffee,” which, by the way, is available at the hotel bar you just left. [emphasis added]
Note that this is a fairly minimal claim and one that seems pretty obviously true. In this piece, she points out that it is also likely to be highly counterproductive to the man’s goal (assuming that the goal was companionship and creating a hostile environment). So this is, to people of good will, helpful advice. I would generalize it to “Don’t hit on people at conferences”. That’s not the point of the conference. I also strongly suggest not hitting on your students. Similarly, co-worker romance has pitfalls. One doesn’t have to have strict rules about it, but it’s not hard to recognize that treating venues which are not designed or intended for romantic pursuits as if they were is problematic. It shouldn’t be hard to see that infecting all situations with a dating (to be charitable) ethos can be rather disruptive, esp. to women, esp. since “being available” is something women have to struggle against in all sorts of contexts.
So, did Not Bothered miss this point? Let’s pick the first comment:
Briefly, I’m bothered by the kind of victimization Skepchick’s original response pins on women. It presents them as beleaguered by the evils of patriarchal society. ‘Oh noes, the menfolk are hittin’ on me.’
I’m not sure if this is missing the point or just “just” disagreeing. It certainly doesn’t seem to be very charitable. Just consider the routine sexism Watson experienced:
But after a few years of blogging, podcasting, and speaking at skeptics’ conferences, I began to get emails from strangers who detailed their sexual fantasies about me. I was occasionally grabbed and groped without consent at events.
I don’t see how this isn’t worth calling out as wrong and I also don’t see how Not Bothered is going to not classify this as whiny victimisation. (Mostly because that seems to be the schtick in play.)
For he’s calling attention to how ludicrous it is to characterize this event as a case of anything other than an awkward social interaction. For Skepchick to feel as though she has some obvious entitlement to apology here strikes me, in this context, as false.
Did she ask for an apology? Not that I saw. (And why isn’t she deserving of an apology. If you come on to someone in an inappropriate way or situation, and apology seems the minimal thing to do.) The point isn’t to apologize to Watson, but that such actions collectively undermine the space and community for women. And really, if you can’t avoid being hit on after talking about the problems that people treating conferences as places to pick up women for hours, when can you avoid being hit on? The extra problems with the interactions (i.e., the cornering, isolation, overriding specific expressions of intent by Watson) are important, but not essential to the problem.
But Skepchick’s original characterization of the event makes it clear that, prior to the rash of ignorant abuses she’s received after her video, the only threats she faced were the ones in her head.
So, the description starts in her video at around 4:32. Here’s a transcript which I’ll excerpt:
Um, just a word to the wise here, guys, uh, don’t do that. Um, you know (laugh), uh, I don’t really know else to explain how this made 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 four AM in a hotel elevator with you, just you, and I don’t wanna go back to your hotel room after I finished talking about how it creeps me out and makes me uncomfortable when men sexualize me in that manner. So, yeah, but everybody else seemed to really get it, and thank you for getting it.
Note that there is no explicit discussion of threat per se, though some subsequent commentary (esp. by Amanda Marcotte) emphasises the threat aspect. Even if Waston wasn’t frightened by the incident doesn’t mean that the threat was not there and the situation wasn’t problematic. Indeed, even if the threat was “in her head” that doesn’t mean that the problem was with her. (After all, she wasn’t attacked, so there was no materialised threat. But that doesn’t mean that she didn’t have to deal with it as if it were a threat. And note that the threat needn’t be of being attacked physically, but there’s also the possibility of the person pressing harder, of insulting her, etc. Given her experiences and the events leading up to that moment, it is quite rational for her to have such concerns. Given that she was exhausted as well, makes being extra creeped out even more understandable.)
Not bothered gets much worse:
Instead, she takes an awkward situation and makes it worse by posting an indignant video characterizing herself as a victim and he an aggressor. She had a late night with some friends, and one of them asked if she’d like to continue the conversation over coffee in his room. Heaven forfend! What a travesty of the patriarchy!
Watch the video…it doesn’t read as indignant to me but exasperated. It was exasperating. What does she have to do not to get hit on, explicitly say, “Ok, I’m heading off to bed. I don’t want to be hit on!”
Even as an isolated incident this would be wearing, esp. in the context. Did the guy listen to anything said? What was he doing hanging around if he didn’t understand the issue? However, as the Slate article adequately points out, this was part of a large pattern. And it seems very true: More women would feel more comfortable at such events if “romantic” moves were confined to appropriate times and places.
I won’t go any further into Not Bothered’s comments or even the rest of this one. It’s rather hostile and contemptuous in a way I find unappealing, unhelpful, and unlikely to result in any useful dialogue.
It is odd to have to be discussing the original incident in such detail, as Rebecca Kukla (and others) point out: The abuse afterwards (and, well, before!) are horrific. But I do think Watson had a point with the original issue. Of course, the skeptical community is going to seem even less inviting to women if they tolerate the huge level of abuse she’s received or subtly sanction it by focusing overmuch on the original incident and compound it with the sort of stuff that Dawkins and Not Bothered push.