So Long And Thanks For All The Chris

11 Jul

I received a comment on my last post and I thought that rather than letting it linger on a comment thread, I would address some interesting points Chris Willett made.  Here is his comment.  

Why I stand with Dr. Richard Dawkins:

The skeptic community is embroiled in an acrimonious debate concerning whether “Elevator Guy” was obtuse and harmless or sexist and harassing in his overture to Ms. Watson in an elevator in Dublin. When I arrived to this debate, quite late, “Elevator Guy” had been repeatedly insulted and his motives thoroughly debated (in commentary long on assumptions and emotional intensity and short on facts). Some “feminists” derided his actions as sexist and emphasized the potential for sexual assault, citing statistics and research on rape. Others, siding with Dr. Dawkins, argued that this perspective constitutes “hysteria” (admittedly a sexist term) and serves not to elevate women, but to demean men by presupposing that they are all potential rapists. Some “feminists” shot back by accusing their opponents of ignorance on issues of sexism and male privilege.

While I certainly do not doubt or have any desire to minimize the experiences of Ms. Watson and other women who repeatedly receive unwanted sexual advances (and threats), I believe that the entire issue is overblown.

First, I disagree with the notion that this event was unquestionably an act of sexism:

Sexism is the belief (and more importantly, the differential treatment that results from such belief) that one sex is superior to the other. In the American historical context, men have long been (incorrectly, obviously) regarded as superior to women. (Undoubtedly, Christian doctrine played a large part in promoting this view.) It is clearly apparent that “Elevator Guy” dismissed Ms. Watson’s statements concerning her discomfort with unwanted male pursuit and her intent to retire for the evening. He is thus rightly chided for being obtuse, selfish, and disrespectful. Concluding that his actions were sexist, however, requires demonstrating that he disregarded Ms. Watson’s stated intentions because of her sex. While there is certainly a long history of men ignoring women’s preferences concerning sexual advances, I am not convinced that the fact of this history alone is sufficient grounds to state with certainty that “Elevator Guy” is sexist or misogynist.

I also resent the assertion that my position is patently callous or sexist. I recognize that I not only enjoy male privilege, but that I also experience what could be termed “double male privilege” due to my sexual orientation. As a gay man, I do not relate intimately with women and thus am unaware of the personal concerns that they may express only in the privacy of their romantic relationships. Nor must I heed such concerns when pursuing romance, since I pursue men. Nevertheless, I remain unconvinced that merely believing that this issue is overblown makes me (or Dr. Dawkins) ignorant or insensitive concerning issues of sex inequality.

Certainly men must recognize the legitimacy of female discomfort in enclosed spaces. But when some “feminists” suggest that “polite” and “considerate” men decline opportunities to enter an elevator in which a woman stands alone, I do not see an argument promoting respect and equality for women. Instead, I see a rather insulting assertion that women are frightened, helpless, victims-in-waiting unable to defend themselves. This perspective also limits men – presumably even gay ones like me – by implying that a woman’s right to not feel any level of discomfort, whether justified or not, transcends a man’s right to ride in the elevator. This is not equality; this is a reversal of who has privilege.

Second, and much more importantly, I believe that Dr. Dawkins has been unfairly pilloried:

Dr. Dawkins entered the debate shortly after it began, sarcastically comparing the incident to the appalling oppression of women in fundamentalist Islamic societies. I believe he intended to express that the incident hardly merits the attention it has received. After his comment was widely panned, Dr. Dawkins clarified his position, requested additional information, and acknowledged that he could be mistaken. Whatever your opinion of his tone, a close reading of his three comments does not reveal him to be the domineering misogynist he has been made out to be.

But I am no longer chiefly concerned with my ability to convince others of my perspective on whether or not the elevator proposition was sexist. A much more pressing matter is the extreme, divisive reactions that Ms. Watson and some of her supporters have recently posted on Skepchick. In “The Privilege Delusion,” Ms. Watson refers derisively to Dr. Dawkins as a “stinking rich” “wealthy old heterosexual white man,” states that she will boycott his work, and thanks her supporters for “bravely battling [Dawkins] and the hoards of clueless privileged people who didn’t get it.” The open letters to Dr. Dawkins are more severe: “I look forward to watching your legacy crash and burn,” wrote Mindy, who concluded with “you don’t get a second chance.” Another letter opened with “Dear Dick” and accused Dr. Dawkins of making the skeptic community “blatantly unsafe” for women.

Language such as this, dripping with negative emotional reactivity, eclipses the legitimate perspective the writers wish to express, reveals as hypocrites those who have targeted Dr. Dawkins for his tone, and threatens to split apart a movement that already has more than enough challenges. (Dr. Dawkins now faces retribution in the actual press.) Further, the ferociousness of the accusations of sexism and misogyny directed at Dr. Dawkins and others only serves, rightly or wrongly, to provide ammunition to the real “men’s rights activists” out there who believe that feminism is about revenge rather than equality.

We can do better than this. The first responsibility of any skeptic is to be skeptical of his own perspective. That ability, along with a healthy dose of modesty and humility, has been abandoned in recent days. It is long past time to either debate this issue reasonably or simply let it go.

First of all I’d like to point out that in my previous post I never so much as suggested I knew anything about the intentions behind ‘Elevator guy.’  Was he harmless?  Was he harassing?  Who knows?  Who cares?

I don’t care what his intentions were; I have no desire to insult elevator guy.  I just want him to understand how he comes off so that next time he finds a girl ‘interesting’ he’ll remember to take a moment in her shoes and introduce himself in a different setting.  I don’t want to shame him, I just want men to view the world they live in through a womans eyes before approaching one.  I think that would actually fix a lot of things.

In fact we could even say that in this instance Elevator Guy is getting screwed over not by feminism but by patriarchy.  Patriarchy leads to jokes and media which encourages the demeaning of women and the acceptability of rape, which leads to rape and a culture in which all men UNFORTUNATELY must be treated at least a little bit like Schrodinger’s rapist.  Every time I think about this concept I die a little inside, but really it’s because I know that it’s true.

Elevator guy didn’t attack or even touch Watson.  He sounds like he was doing what he thought was right, keeping his hands to himself and speaking politely.  The thing that screams sexism to me is that he wasn’t aware of how the exchange would feel to Rebecca; he had no idea he was Schrodinger’s rapist.  He didn’t know that patriarchy was about to slap him on the behind and then repeatedly in the face all over the internet.

Not all men are rapists.  I know that.  In fact the only women I know who doubt that are the ones who’ve been raped.

A lot of people accuse feminists of thinking that all men are rapists. That’s not true. But do you know who think all men are rapists?

Rapists do.

They really do. In psychological study, the profiling, the studies, it comes out again and again.

Virtually all rapists genuinely believe that all men rape, and other men just keep it hushed up better. And more, these people who really are rapists are constantly reaffirmed in their belief about the rest of mankind being rapists like them by things like rape jokes, that dismiss and normalize the idea of rape.

If one in twenty guys is a real and true rapist, and you have any amount of social activity with other guys like yourself, really cool guy, then it is almost a statistical certainty that one time hanging out with friends and their friends, playing Halo with a bunch of guys online, in a WoW guild, or elsewhere, you were talking to a rapist. Not your fault. You can’t tell a rapist apart any better than anyone else can. It’s not like they announce themselves.

But, here’s the thing. It’s very likely that in some of these interactions with these guys, at some point or another someone told a rape joke. You, decent guy that you are, understood that they didn’t mean it, and it was just a joke. And so you laughed.

And, decent guy who would never condone rape, who would step in and stop rape if he saw it, who understands that rape is awful and wrong and bad, when you laughed?

That rapist who was in the group with you, that rapist thought that you were on his side. That rapist knew that you were a rapist like him. And he felt validated, and he felt he was among his comrades.

You. The rapist’s comrade.

And if that doesn’t make you feel sick to your stomach, if that doesn’t make you want to throw up, if that doesn’t disturb you or bother you or make you feel like maybe you should at least consider not participating in that kind of humor anymore…

Well, maybe you aren’t as opposed to rapists as you claim.

(Chris, that also goes for racist and homophobic bigotry too)

My argument isn’t that men should stop getting on elevators with women; that isn’t fair at all and would probably be very counterproductive.  My argument is that we should stop teaching girls to live in fear and stop teaching boys that being feared makes them men.  It’s that cycle that’s the problem.

I wish I lived in a world where men could invite me back to their hotel rooms on elevators and I could consider going or not going with no fear.  Imagine it, that would be a fantastic world, but that’s not the world we live in.

So let’s change it.

Instead of saying let’s put up curtains and disallow men from being alone with women so women can feel safe, let’s just stop saying that Chris Brown is an acceptable example of a man.  Let’s change the messages we send our sons so that in the next generation there are only men who you would want your daughter to be on an elevator with.  Then women won’t be afraid and won’t treat future Elevator Guys like Schrodinger’s rapist.  And then maybe they can be invited to hotel rooms and have coffee.  Or other stuff (but I won’t make you think about your future daughter doing that…except I just did, HA!)

I don’t think your position is “patently callous or sexist,” Chris.  I just think you’re not being part of the solution.  And as they say, “if you’re not part of the solution you’re part of the problem.”  I don’t want to punish you, I want to recruit you.  I want you to help me create this world where my daughter can have sex with a stranger in a hotel room.  I want future Elevator Guy to get some because my daughter is going to be awesome!

Lastly why, Chris, do you call feminists ‘feminists’?  Do you think they’re fake?

Oh, and also, I do not associate with the skeptic movement.

One Response to “So Long And Thanks For All The Chris”

  1. Chris Willett December 25, 2011 at 2:58 pm #


    I just found this, months later!

    I referred to some who identified as feminists as “feminists” because I felt that their position did not affirm women’s equality to men, but instead suggested that women be treated “differently” or “with more care” because of their sex, which implies that women are somehow weaker or inferior. But it is possible that I misread a deconstruction of male privilege as an exhortation to behave much differently lest I unintentionally make a woman uncomfortable. (When one poster somewhere told me to stay out of the elevator if a woman was inside, I thought this crossed the line.)

    I’m interested in what you’ve written here: “The thing that screams sexism to me is that he wasn’t aware of how the exchange would feel to Rebecca; he had no idea he was Schrodinger’s rapist.”

    So, because of his male privilege (not having to, or not even knowing to, consider how a woman might feel in such a position, questioning whether the man used the elevator for privacy or for intimidation, or perhaps both), “Elevator Guy’s” actions were sexist? That argument I can understand. What I didn’t understand were the claims of some that the man himself was sexist, or how anyone could even know that. (But since “actions make the man,” I suppose one could draw that conclusion . . .)

    What really agitated me was the browbeating that Dawkins received from Skepchick and other well-read bloggers in the community, which I thought was unfair. The reaction struck me as emotional, not rational. Not least because Dawkins himself was fondled as a child, I thought it was a stretch to accuse him of being completely dismissive of the experiences of rape victims, which is an accusation I saw repeatedly in comments at places like Skepchick and Pharyngula. My impression was that the elevator incident had been conflated with actual sexual assault and that Dawkins’s statement, which essentially was a shout of “first world problem!” to the rapidly escalating commentary at Pharyngula, did not justify the bloodthirsty calls for his downfall afterwards.

    All that aside, I am glad that you took the time to respond to what I had written. Your post has certainly given me something new to think about.

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