Happy 4th of July!
We have some fireworks popping off within the atheist community. It’s nothing huge – not like one of these modern “crush you city’s budget” fireworks displays that are all the rage. It’s more along the lines of like an early 1990s firework show. Anyway, it seems that top-dog atheist Richard Dawkins has angered some feminist-atheists for downplaying a particular act of so-called sexism that took place at an atheist conference. Stick with me, this gets stupid.
Background: Feminist-atheist Rebecca Watson posted a video about her experience at the conference in Dublin in which she was asked by a man who was attending the conference whether she would like to come up to his room for coffee and conversation. This incident occurred at 4 a.m. in an elevator with only Watson and the man present. Watson claims she was perturbed because her presentation earlier in the day involved the topic of sexism in the atheist community and was made “incredibly uncomfortable” by Elevator Guy’s proposition. Here is Watson’s video (juicy at 4:00):
Some in the community criticized Watson’s reaction and she called them out at another atheist conference. Noted atheist PZ Myers discussed Watson’s encounter, her video, and the various rebuttals which is all inside baseball stuff that isn’t really interesting to me. But then Richard Dawkins jumped into the fray and stirred the pot – reigniting the issue of whether Watson reacted properly to Elevator Guy’s approach. Initially, Dawkins mocked Watson by comparing her situation to that of Muslim women facing real feminist issues. Moving on in the discussion, Dawkins commented:
But my point is that the ‘slightly bad thing’ suffered by Rebecca was not even slightly bad, it was zero bad. A man asked her back to his room for coffee. She said no. End of story.
Unfortunately, Dawkins doesn’t really get at the heart of the matter. His rebuttal is about as simple as the maladroit neckbeards shouting him down in the comments section. This contains two issues: sexism and rudeness. Some are angry that Elevator Guy saw Watson as a sex object rather than as an equal – a theme which apparently runs deep in atheist circles. Others are miffed that Elevator Guy imposed on Watson or didn’t empathize with a woman put in this position of weakness. Let’s tackle both.
Sexism. Watson wrote:
[This] demonstrates an ignorance of Feminism 101 – in this case, the difference between sexual attraction and sexual objectification. The former is great – be attracted to people! Flirt, have fun, make friends, have sex, meet the love of your life, whatever floats your boat. But the latter involves dismissing a person’s feelings, desires, and identity, with a complete disinterest in how one’s actions will affect the “object” in question. That’s what we shouldn’t be doing. No, we feminists are not outlawing sexuality.
A male atheist can still respect a female atheist for her atheistic philosophy while also wanting to fuck her. These things are not mutually exclusive; Elevator Guy probably felt that he paid respect to Watson’s intellect through the course of the day – being night time, he hoped for a little more. He made a leap and fell flat. If our species drops the response which is labeled “objectification” by feminists, Brave New World won’t be far behind.
First, unlike rape or any other measurable crime, behaving like a cad is not universally despised. Women in elevators at 4 a.m. in hotels in foreign countries often accept coffee and conversation. Also, Elevator Guy prefaced his approach with “don’t take this the wrong way”. Rapists or men who should be feared don’t usually speak that way; they’re more forceful. I don’t doubt that Watson could have been scared or intimidated by this man alone in this elevator, but how do men correct this natural imbalance that makes them inherently “creepy” or “intimidating”? How empathetic should men be to womens’ fear and intimidation? Perhaps this is a non sequitor, but I don’t think I’m alone in pointing out that women comment on the creepiness of men who don’t speak during certain social settings.
A male commenter provides a glimpse at the next logical step to this line of reasoning:
Now that I’m older and understand women and their perspective a little better I will usually cross the road, or tarry a little to remove any impression that I might be following her. It doesn’t inconvenience me and I do it because don’t want to scare anyone unnecessarily. I know I’m not a rapist, and no one is actually accusing me of being one, so what’s the problem?
That’s the philosophical question: at what point does a man or anyone in a position of strength have to empathize with the weaker person? What activities should he avoid and to what lengths should he use words to minimize the shadow of his threat? What about salesmen? Should people who solicit anything not be allowed to sell their goods? What about women asking men when they’re going to propose marriage? Chicks ask guys to buy them drinks, or rings, or clothing all the time. How about that? Further, should big, scary looking guys avoid one-on-one interaction with people at all? Should they avoid eye contact and make themselves smaller in order to minimize their perceived aggression? All of these behaviors stem from privilege in one way or another. The difference is that we usually either laugh them off or realize that they are part and parcel of moving around in this world. Watson could have just laughed Elevator Guy off and said that “it’s annoying when”, but by saying “guys, don’t do this” turned it into a moral or ethical question when it doesn’t seem that morals or ethics apply to the situation.
There’s one further point to be made. Watson is talking about this incident within the context of it being really late at night in a strange hotel. But she was the one who chose to stay out drinking until 4 a.m. and to go into an elevator by herself. Thus, if propositions are feasible during waking hours (Watson and Myers stated that flirting et al aren’t bad things), an elevator at 4 a.m. is not off limits.
This all basically reminds me that atheists aren’t generally all that bright. They’re supposed to engage in logical debate, but I’m not seeing much of it.